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Enforcement Workshop - Defining Arrest - Practical Consequences of Agency Differences (Part 1)

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Bulletin Volume: 16 Issue: 4 Dated: (July-August 1980) Pages: 376-380
L W Sherman
Date Published
5 pages
The existence of varying legal and operational definitions of arrest is discussed.
The greatest source of confusion is the wide variety of police practices that fit competing definitions of arrest and yet are understood by consensus rather than principle not to constitute arrest. Another source of confusion is the recent increase in the use of 'citations in lieu of arrests.' More important than the legal definitions of arrests may be the operational definitions for the purposes of creating an arrest record and counting the number of arrests. Operational definitions of arrest suffer from a great deal of ambiguity; for example, in the first handbook for crime reporting issued with the approval of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the definition of arrest fails to indicate the point at which a person may be said to be taken into custody, and it fails to distinguish booking from charging. The definition of arrest in the Uniform Crime Reports manual does not show how likely each offender is to be punished for each offense, since it does not consider the number of offenders participating in each offense nor the full number of offenses committed by all offenders in multiple offense incidents. The definition also affords great leeway and incentive to police to encourage suspects arrested for other offenses to confess to crimes they did not commit. Part II, which will be presented in the next issue, will consider additional problems with the operational definitions of arrest and suggest some practical implications of these definitional inconsistencies. Footnotes are provided.


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