U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Social Inequality and Crime Control

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1985
21 pages
Variations in the sizes of urban police departments over time were examined to compare the explanatory powers of rational public choice theory and conflict theory.
Rational public choice theory assumes that communities allocate resources to law enforcement agencies on the basis of majority rule and rational individual choice. Thus, authorities are viewed as making decisions according to the 'demand decisions' of the majority of voters as expressed in an unrestricted electoral process. The analysis considered the relationships between race; income; inequality of income; city revenue per capita; police strength; and crime rates in 1950, 1960, 1970, and 1980. The sample included the 310 United States cities with populations of 50,000 or more in 1960 and the 80 cities reaching this size by 1970. Missing data resulted in the inclusion of only 259 communities in 1950 and 1960, 260 in 1970, and 252 in 1980. Police strength was measured in terms of full-time police employees per 100,000 persons. Linear models with lagged variables were used in a two-wave regression analysis. Results provided only weak support for conflict theory. Police force strength was unrelated to inequalities in income distribution. Race was moderately related to police force strength, but only in the South before 1970. Rational choice theory received no support from the results. Neither violent crime nor property crime was a strong predictor of increases in police force strength. City revenues influenced police strength before 1970 but not after it, despite increasing media coverage and public concern about crime. 66 reference notes.

Date Published: January 1, 1985