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On the Limits of Social Control: Structural Deterrence and the Policing of "Suppressible" Crimes

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2006 Pages: 186-213
Date Published
June 2006
28 pages

In an attempt to extend the research on structural deterrence, this study examined the effects of apprehension threats, measured in terms of police arrest practices, on crime rates in a major urban setting.


Overall, the findings conditionally support those of other studies that have used arrests per officer as the measure of apprehension threat in tests of structural deterrence. By testing macro/structural deterrence theory over time in a major urban setting, using two different measures of apprehension risk: raw arrest counts across police precincts and arrests per officer per precinct, this study found conditional support for the research hypothesis that variations in apprehension threat across police precincts predicted related variations in robbery and burglary. Specifically, it found curvilinear relationships between arrests per officer and subsequent robbery and burglary rates. Structural deterrence theory is imbedded in the environmental hazards literature arguing that as the perceived risk of a hazardous event increases across geographic space, aggregate changes in routines take place as individuals attempt to avoid the hazard. Research testing structural deterrence has generally focused on the crimes of robbery and burglary, neglecting the causal link between formal sanctions and crime rates across geographic space. This study examined the relationships between patterns of police arrests and subsequent variations in robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault in New York City police precincts from 1989 to 1998. Figures, tables, and references

Date Published: June 1, 2006