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Social Inequality and Crime Control

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1985
21 pages
To test the public choice and conflict theories of resource allocation to crime control, this study considers the sources of variation in the size of urban police departments over time.
Rational public choice theory assumes that communities allocate resources to police agencies (and other government activities) on the basis of majority rule and rational individual choice. Conflict theory views society as composed of various groups with differing moral standards and interests, with groups having greater power and resources tending to prevail in the political process. This study examined the relationship between race, income, inequality, and police strength. To determine the effect of a community's racial composition and income distribution on police force strength, data for these variables and for crime rates were analyzed for 1950, 1960, 1970, and 1980. The sample consisted of all U.S. cities of at least 50,000 population in 1960 (310) and those cities that reached this size between 1960 and 1970 (80). The measure of police strength was the number of full-time police employees per 100,000 residents. There was no evidence that police force strength correlates with the degree of inequality in a city's income. There was some evidence of a moderately strong relationship between race and police force strength, but only in the South before 1970. This relationship probably reflects the instrumental use of the police by politically dominant whites to suppress blacks. Conflict theory is weakly supported, but rational choice theory is not supported at all. Neither violent crime nor property crime is a strong predictor of increases in police strength. Tabular data and 66 references.

Date Published: January 1, 1985