Studies of arrest discretion have highlighted arrest's distinctive sociological, psychological, and organizational dimensions, while ignoring the mundane effects of arrest-processing itself. Yet it is this process of arrest-making, and its impact on the personal lives of officers, that may be the most critical arrest determinant of all.
Consider the 40,000-uniform member New York City Police Department, where the applicant, a police lieutenant, observed fellow officers for twenty years. In the NYPD, post-arrest procedures often involve prolonged paperwork and contact with prisoners, and officers must extend their tour in proportion to the lateness of their arrests. This situation generates powerful private motives to make or avoid arrest at any given time.
The most common benefit afforded by arrest is overtime, calculated at time-and-a-half rates, taken in cash or compensatory time. Arrest also offers an escape to the station house from an unpleasant assignment. The major personal costs of arrest processing are also two-fold. It is an intrusion upon officer's lives as private individuals, and it poses inherent risks and discomforts. Controlling the timing and type of arrests is thus a way officers can control their income, personal schedule, and working conditions.
New York City patrol officers seem to absorb the skills and rationales of arrest-control from their first station house roll call. There, many officers speak freely of their need for arrest overtime to pay for a car, a vacation, or their children's braces. Some officers mention how they were up all night with a heavy date or a sick baby and are thus in no condition to stay late with an arrest. Others talk about a class, a second job, or a party after work that would preclude their making an arrest. One officer, itching from contact with a lice-infested prisoner, declares that he will never again arrest a derelict. Those in car-pools coordinate their arrest plans to accommodate their transportation needs going home. Officers poll one another as to who that day would offer or take an unwanted arrest.
When these arrest-sharing arrangements fall neatly into place, they have little impact on the arrest decisions. But sometimes officers who have arranged to pass off their arrest find the "catchers" tied up with other patrol incidents. Occasionally, those officers most willing to take arrests are "capped out," discouraged by management from making any more cash overtime. On Super Bowl Sunday or on holidays, officers may not find a single volunteer to take their arrest. At other periods, like the pre-Christmas shopping season, nearly every officer is out scrambling for arrest overtime. Thus peer cooperation cannot guarantee that on a given day an officer will be able to make or avoid an arrest.
Some officers therefore feel a need to modify their patrol style to enhance their "arrest control." On a no-arrest day they may keep themselves busy with summonses and service calls, drive slowly and noisily to crimes in progress, avoid blocks where arrests "fall into your lap," and forego proactive measures like license plate checks and stop-and-frisks. They may avoid the types of people and the kinds of arguments that get them "pissed off." They may construe incidents as non-crimes, or ignore them entirely. And on an arrest day, they may do exactly the opposite - rush to incidents, initiate interventions, provoke disputants, and pat down "known criminals" - particularly late in the tour, when arrests mean overtime.
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