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Explaining Police Officer Discretionary Activity

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 30 Issue: 3 Dated: December 2005 Pages: 325-346
Date Published
December 2005
22 pages

This study examined individual and community factors as predictors of police officers’ daily discretionary decisions to engage in a variety of typical police activities.


The findings indicated that the individual-level characteristics of officers did not impact the discretionary activity choices of either community or traditional beat officers. Specifically, one community factor was related to the police activity choices of community police officers: high crime rates. For beat officers, a number of community factors influenced their daily decisions about police work: residential mobility, neighborhood socioeconomic status, and crime rate and neighborhood anonymity. The findings thus indicate that less stable and less affluent neighborhoods receive more patrol from beat officers. Data were drawn from systematic observations of police officers in the Cincinnati Police Division (CPD) during a 13-month period between April 1997 and April 1998. Observation data were collected from 131 different beat officers and 31 different community-oriented officers for a total of 442 shifts that occurred over 3,536 hours. Data also included information on all crimes known to the police during the study period, Bureau of Census information on neighborhood and resident characteristics, and land use information from the Cincinnati Area Geographic Information Service. Survey data were also collected from 119 beat and 27 community-oriented police officers. Neighborhood level variables under analysis included residential mobility, racial composition, socioeconomic status, and crime rate while individual level characteristics under examination included demographic characteristics, attitude toward community policing, supervisory input, and citizen input. Six factors were examined to represent the work routines of officers: time spent in patrol, order maintenance activities, crime-related activities, traffic-related tasks, service-oriented behaviors, and community policing-related activities. The lack of influence of community level factors on the policing activities of community policing officers is striking given the fact that community policing requires police activities to be tailored to the needs of neighborhoods. Future research should broaden the range of police behaviors under examination. Tables, appendixes, notes, references

Date Published: December 1, 2005