Beyond 911 and the Myth of Reactive Policing

Stephen D. Mastrofski, George Mason University
Roger B. Parks, Indiana University

This paper is an empirical examination of the widely held claim that the work of contemporary urban police patrol forces in America is overwhelmingly reactive in nature. This paper reports how much patrol work is self-directed by officers, how officers spend their self-directed time, and how patterns of self-directed patrol work have changed in the last twenty years. Data from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (1996/1997) and the Police Services Study (1977) are analyzed. The research shows that urban policing is not so reactive as the received wisom suggests, that patrol officers often have interludes between assigned calls of an hour or more, that much of that time is still spent on preventive patrol or other casual, non-problem-focused activity, and that even twenty years earlier, police work in America's urban areas varied considerably in the extent to which it was "driven by the radio." The implications of these findings for future research and policy making are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006