Race and Arrest in U.S. Cities From the Conflict Perspective

Brian J. Stults, University of Florida

According to conflict theory, certain segments of society have the power to shape crime legislation and enforcement, and are able to use that power to control populations they perceive as threatening. The threat hypothesis suggests that the larger and more socially, politically, or economically threatening a group, the more likely it will be controlled through the criminal justice system. This study examines race-specific arrest rates in U.S. cities in 1970, 1980, and 1990, from the threat perspective.Hypotheses are tested concerning the effects of racial composition and segregation. Multiple forms of crimes are examined with the expectation that arrest rates for crimes involving more discretion by police, such as drug-related crimes, will be more strongly affected by whites' perception of social threat. Fixed and random effects methods are used to model effects both between cities and within cities over time. Results show that arrest rates are related to the city's racial context, and that predictors vary by crime type, year, and race. The threat hypothesis receives mixed support. Models of drug arrest provide the strongest support for the conflict perspective, confirming the expectation that discretionary types of crime are more responsive to perceived threat.

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Updated 05/20/2006