Policing Places: The Influence of Street Segment Context on Police Activity

Breanne Cave

Advisor: David Weisburd, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Cynthia Lum, Stephen Mastrofski, Kevin Curtin

Enterprise Hall, #318
January 25, 2016, 03:00 PM to 12:00 PM


This dissertations draws from community-level theory and research to examine how aspects of street segment context influence police behavior. Negotiated Order theory, Broken Windows theory, Sung’s theory of police-community relations (PCR), and Legal Cynicism theory make various predictions about how aspects of community life such as crime and disorder, informal community life, socio-demographics, and citizens’ perceptions of the police influence police activity. Scholars have argued that such perspectives are also relevant at the place level, as aspects of neighborhood and community life are likely to contribute to the mental templates that police officers build about how the people, places, and situations they encounter in their environment relate to crime and disorder problems. However, there has been little place-based research about police activity.

Using data from a study of 450 street segments in Baltimore City, Maryland, this dissertation examines how aspects of street segment life predict police activity. The results show that street segment demographic composition, disorder, and crime are the most consistent predictors of police activity. A larger racial/ethnic minority population, more disorder, and fewer crime calls for service generally predict more arrest and report writing in the sampled segments. While the findings provide partial support for some elements of Negotiated Order, Broken Windows, and PCR theory, they also imply that officers’ perceptions about risk in their immediate environment may be a relevant predictor of arrest and report writing at the street segment level. Future research should focus on how perceived threat may influence place-based disparities in police activity, and the implications of the perceived dangerousness of places for place-focused crime prevention interventions.