Police Use of Excessive Force in Disorganized Neighborhoods

Police Use of Excessive Force in Disorganized Neighborhoods

Police Use of Excessive Force in Disorganized Neighborhoods

Police Use of Excessive Force in Disorganized Neighborhoods

Synopsis

Hays examines how residents of socially disorganized neighborhoods become the victims of both criminals and rogue police officers. Following from theories of social disorganization and collective efficacy, Hays proposes a new theory for predicting police use of force. He argues that as neighborhood poverty, racial/ethnic differences, and residential mobility increase, it becomes more difficult for residents to know each other, to trust each other, and to help each other defend their neighborhoods from criminals and from rogue police officers. Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, he finds that residents of disorganized neighborhoods are doubly-victimized OCo both by the criminals who work their neighborhoods and the police who are supposed to protect them.

Excerpt

The scholarly literature on police officers’ use of force has expanded over the past few decades, yet there remains relatively little theory that explains such police behavior. The vast majority of policing studies remain atheoretical, and those studies that are theory-driven tend to rely on only two broad theoretical frameworks – social threat theories and criminal threat theories. While these frameworks have been established as strong explanations for police use of force, if the field is to move forward, alternative explanations must be put forth and empirically tested. This book fills this conspicuous gap in the literature by proposing the appropriation of the criminological theory of social disorganization (typically used to explain rates of crime) and then empirically testing it as possible explanation for police use of force behaviors.

Shaw and McKay’s (1942) theory of social disorganization has traditionally been used to explain the high rates of crime commonly found in inner-city neighborhoods. Born out of the Chicago School’s tradition of neighborhood ecology, Shaw and McKay viewed crime as the result of neighborhood contextual factors rather than the individualspecific factors that had previously garnered the attention of most criminologists. Although the relevance and popularity of Shaw and McKay’s social disorganization theory has fluctuated over the years in the eyes of many criminologists, the role of neighborhood context has only very recently come to the attention of policing researchers. Two of the first researchers to consider how neighborhood context might influence police behavior were Slovak (1986) and Smith (1986), only forty years after Shaw and McKay’s original research. Slovak perfectly captured both researchers’ sentiment when he lamented that “there is no solid lead to follow from the research of others in this regard, for almost no serious efforts to tie ecological variations within a city to police patterns in particular or to social control efforts in general have yet appeared” (1986:144).

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