Exploring the Multiple Levels of Police Authority in Police-Citizen Encounters

Robert A. Brown, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ., Indianapolis
James Frank, University of Cincinnati

Policing scholars frequently conceptualize distinct police actions like executing full-custody arrests as the exercise of coercive control or formal authority. The empirical research on police-citizen encounters has treated arrest as a high degree of social control by the police and, for the most part, arrest outcoems are compared to an officer doing "nothing." The coercive actions officers take to deal with citizens are not necessarily limited to a single set of dichotomous choices: the no-arrest/arrest outcome measure. Unfortunately, the extant research in this area rearely examines the exercise of formal authority that is more than "nothing" but less than arrest. Using data from systematic social observations of police-citizen encounters, this paper explores the actions that officers take against citizens that are quantifiable and that lie somewhere betwen doing "nothing" and an officer making an arrest. The results have implications for sociological theories of law, theories of officer discretion and administrators seeking to understand how officers interact with citizens.

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Updated 05/20/2006