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Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Criminal Justice

Social ecology and police discretion: The inuence of district crime, cynicism, and
workload on the vigor of police response
James J. Sobol
Buffalo State College, Criminal Justice Department, 1300 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo, New York 14222, United States

a b s t r a c t

This study provided a partial test of Klinger's (1997) postulations on the ecological correlates of police vigor
using data drawn from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN). Klinger's theory hypothesized that a
form of police behavior he called vigor would vary inversely with district crime levels because ofcers would
be more cynical of residents, view crime as normal, perceive victims as less deserving, and have less time to
devote to calls in high crime districts. Although data limitations precluded a full test, the current study
examined two of the four mediating variables (ofcer cynicism and district workload) and their inuence on
the crime/vigor relationship. Findings revealed variables other than those examined might mediate the effect
of district crime on vigor or the relationship between district crime and vigor might be spurious. Implications
for future research and theoretical development are discussed.
2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introduction ecological correlates of police vigor using data drawn from the Project
on Policing Neighborhoods. This study built on prior studies that
The understanding of neighborhood effects on police behavior assessed the degree to which the type of neighborhood in which police-
rests largely on a collection of diverse, and at times, contradictory citizen encounters occurred inuenced the manner in which police
empirical associations among neighborhood variables on different functioned.2 The ndings provided preliminary insights into Klinger's
forms of police behavior. To improve this understanding, Klinger theory and suggested issues that future research ought to consider.
(1997) presented a theoretical model to explain how and why patrol
district crime levels affect police behavior. His theory predicted that Literature review
the vigor with which police used their formal authority would vary
inversely with district crime levels because ofcers would be more Early knowledge about neighborhood effects on police behavior
cynical of residents, view crime as normal, perceive victims as less derived from studies focused on the inuence of neighborhood context
deserving, and have less time to devote to calls in high crime districts on styles patrol (Brown, 1981; White, 1972; Wilson, 1968). Among the
when compared to their colleagues assigned to lower crime districts.1 many questions considered, the most prominent was why the police
Klinger's theory highlighted the intersection between police selectively enforced the law across different neighborhood contexts
organizations and ecological environments, and explained why police when the behavior of individuals in those areas was virtually the same
behavior might vary. Missing from the current body of research, (Goldstein, 1960; Rubinstein, 1973; Whyte, 1943). Whyte's (1943)
however, was any empirical examination that tested Klinger's model. ethnographic study in Massachusetts had speculated that variation in
The absence of research could be attributed to the inability to measure police behavior was due to ofcer perceptions of local and societal
key constructs at the appropriate levels and the lack of clarity standards and their desire to maintain close ties with neighborhood
concerning the appropriate unit of aggregation to study the ecological residents (p. 136). Other studies had reported that neighborhood
inuences on police perceptions and behavior. It is therefore unclear settings shaped police priorities and ofcer expectations and, in turn,
whether the proposed relationship between district crime and police accounted for the behavioral differences across physical space (Reiss &
vigor are mediated by workload, police cynicism, views of normal Bordua, 1967; Werthman & Piliavin, 1967).
crime and evaluations of a victim's moral worth. Using observational and aggregate-level data, additional analyses
The current study attempted to address these and additional empirically examined the neighborhood-police behavior nexus. It had
concerns to provide a partial test of Klinger's postulations on the been reported that the racial and socioeconomic status of neighbor-
hoods as well as levels of reported crime explained police discretionary
This paper was accepted under the Editorship of Kent Joscelyn.
actions. For example, using observational data from the Police Services
Tel.: +1 716 878 3217; fax: +1 716 878 3240. Study (PSS), Smith (1986) compared ve different measures of police
E-mail address: soboljj@buffalostate.edu. behavior and eleven neighborhood characteristics. He reported that

0047-2352/$ see front matter 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.04.017
482 J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488

patrol ofcers were more likely to issue citations, make arrests, and subgroups loosely connected to formal organizational rules (e.g., see
engage in coercive and abusive behavior in minority and racially mixed Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Weick, 1969). Those using the negotiated
neighborhoods. He concluded that the propensity of police to exercise order approach to explain behavior of individuals in organizations
coercive authority is not inuenced by the race of the individual suspect perceive behavior as a social rather than a formal rule-driven process.
per se but rather the racial composition of the area in which the Klinger maintains that ofcers operate largely unencumbered by
encounter occurs (p. 332). These results require cautious interpreta- direct outside inuence and devise informal workgroup rules to
tion, however, since Smith failed to control for the type and severity of negotiate order within their district (p. 286). Within these work-
the offense. His ndings might be spurious because ofcers most likely groups lay informal tacit agreements and unofcial rules that govern
arrested, used force, and led a report when the offense was serious and police action, which operate largely outside the realm of police
there was criminal evidence of wrongdoing (e.g., Smith & Klein, 1984; supervision. One important workgroup goal is to process cases
Smith, Visher, & Davidson, 1984; c.f., Sun, Payne, & Wu, 2008). efciently and to deal with the problems of crime and deviance in a
Other studies considered the crime rate in areas where ofcers timely fashion. Variation in levels of crime and deviance across patrol
worked as another predictor of police behavior. Kania and Mackey's districts means that ofcers have different work to perform, which
(1977) ecological study reported that greater levels or threats of Klinger's theory predicts, leads to differences in four factors that frame
violence against the police led to more instances of police force. Two police negotiation of workgroup rules (Klinger, 1997). According to
other studies found a relationship between a jurisdictions level of the theory, ofcers assigned to high crime districts will be less
violence and police aggressiveness and force (Geller & Karales, 1981; vigorous than ofcers assigned to lower crime districts because they
Worden, 1995). In another study, it had been reported that ofcers who would: (1) be more cynical about district residents; (2) view crime as
perceived situations or areas as dangerous might be more aggressive normal; (3) perceive victims as less deserving; and (4) have less time
and likely to use coercive tactics to handle suspects (Fyfe, 1980). Fyfe to devote to all calls equally.
observed a signicant correlation between police shootings and a city's
violent crime rate, but in a later study, reported that internal factors, Police vigor
such as management, administrative policies, and supervisory styles,
accounted for considerable variation in police shootings (Fyfe, 1988).3 Klinger had stated that the application of formal legal authority by
Other scholars posited that neighborhoods with more crime and police ofcers was similar to Donald Black's (1976, 1980) work and
deviance levels might prompt leniency as opposed to aggression the notion that law varies in quantity. Klinger conceptualized vigor as
(Stark, 1987). Stark speculated that patrol ofcers would ignore some the degree to which police ofcers extend their formal legal
violations in high-crime neighborhoods because of their cynical authority in encounters with citizens (p. 279). Vigor and leniency
perceptions toward citizens and victims who reside there. A number are opposite ends of the formal authority continuum (Klinger, 1997,
of studies had presented empirical evidence consistent with Stark's p. 280) and arrests, writing reports and conducting investigations are
thesis. For instance, neighborhood crime rates inuenced police non- examples of formal legal authority. Thus, it is reasonable to assume
recording behaviors for certain offenses in higher-crime neighbor- the formal legal authority applied by police ofcers could be rank-
hoods when other variables were taken into consideration (Brooks, ordered, and examined as such.
1986; Slovak, 1986; Smith, 1986; Warner, 1997; Worden, 1989).
Another study reported that police responded in different ways to
child maltreatment cases, and that the race of the families was a Police cynicism
signicant predictor of police decisions not to invoke the law (Willis &
Wells, 1988). Reports of serious child abuse cases were signicantly According to Klinger's theory, district level deviance is presumed
less likely among African American families than they were among to affect levels of police cynicism about the utility of a vigorous
Caucasian families. response for several reasons. Ofcers become cynical when they
An additional study provided evidence of police underreporting. encounter citizens who do not cooperate and when they see the
Liska and Chamlin (1984) reported that arrest rates for non-Whites criminal justice system fail to remedy deviance. The manifestation of
decreased if they were residentially segregated into distinct neigh- this is when ofcers see previously arrested perpetrators on the street.
borhood (Liska & Chamlin, 1984). Liska and Chamlin (1984) argued With the exception of Sobol (2010), no study directly examined
that benign neglect occurred because both Black victims and patrol whether district crime affected levels of police cynicism. He
ofcers viewed Black-on-Black crimes as a personal matter, thus speculated that cynical ofcers might not devote extensive energy
ofcers were less inclined to take ofcial action in the form of arresting or time to encounters with citizens in high crime districts, especially
or writing a report. In this context, there could be less pressure on with the perception that those citizens were uncooperative (Sobol,
police to address criminal activity because non-White victims might 2010). His research reported a modest positive association between
fail to report crime or follow-up with police investigations. police cynicism and patrol district violent crime rates. Though his
The contradictory empirical ndings in the literature reviewed are research contributed to understanding police perceptions of citizens,
likely due to several factors, including data limitations, the units of it did not examine the direct ecological effects or the mediating effects
aggregation studied (e.g., neighborhoods, districts, city) and most of cynicism on police vigor (but see Sobol, 2008).
prominently, the lack of systematic theory. Much of the research had
presumed ofcers made decisions based on some neighborhood Normal crime
characteristic without identifying the causal mechanisms for the
relationship or offering any explicit mention of the nature and The concept of normal crime assumes legal actors base their
direction of the expected association. Theory guiding the research decisions on the status of the individual as well as on the patrolled
was, for the most part, implicit (Bernard & Engel, 2001; Bernard & area. According to some studies, cases involving lower status clients
Ritti, 1990). Klinger's theory attempted to address this matter by minimal attention because those individuals resided in areas
illuminating the link between district crime, ofcer perception, and perceived as having blemished characters, thus less needful of law
behavior. enforcement (Sudnow, 1964). If patrol ofcers dened deviant acts as
Klinger's theory has deep roots in organizational theory and is normal when district deviance increased, only the most serious
grounded in the negotiated-order perspective (Strauss, 1978; Strauss, deviant acts would garner vigorous police intervention. A loitering
Schatzman, Ehrlich, Bucher, & Sabslin, 1963). This perspective drunk, a group of teenagers congregating on a corner, or loud music
assumes that organizations are comprised of semi-autonomous emanating from an apartment or low-income housing might incur
J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488 483

less vigor in high crime areas because those actions were more Department (SPPD) were in the process of implementing community
normal compared to those same actions in low crime areas. policing at the time of the study. Ofcers in Indianapolis worked in an
organizational environment that stressed traditional aggressive
Victim deservedness enforcement (e.g., trafc and suspicion stops, drug enforcement, and
arrests) to enhance quality of life in the neighborhoods. Ofcers in St.
Several studies used the concept of deservedness to explain the way Petersburg utilized problem solving to improve police service and
in which clients were processed in different settings (Bittner, 1967; citizen satisfaction (DeJong, Mastrofski, & Parks, 2001; Parks,
Lipsky, 1980; Roth, 1972). Bittner (1967) discussed citizen worthiness Mastrofski, DeJong, & Gray, 1999).
in his study of skid-row, while Lipsky (1980) posited street-level
bureaucrats assessed the moral worth of the clientele with whom Systematic social observation
they had contact and might employ worthiness when the end point of
intervention was not clearly dened. Reiss and Bordua (1967) also Trained eld observers accompanied ofcers assigned to selected
observed that police ofcers placed citizens into two categories and beats within particular patrol districts throughout a matched sample of
justied their actions based on citizens perceived to be deserving of work shifts (see Parks et al., 1999 for further detail concerning the POPN
punishment and those who were not. Finally, Herbert's (1998) sampling strategy). Observations occurred across four districts in
research argued ofcers might justify force or bias to the extent that Indianapolis and three districts in St. Petersburg. The POPN study
they could claim some people were more (or less) deserving). Such sample observed areas within districts with higher levels of distress and,
classications might spill over into particular neighborhoods where therefore, higher expected levels of police activity. Twelve beats in each
ofcers stereotype particular places as deserving of vigorous enforce- city were selected with reference to their scores on an index of
ment based on their understanding of crime rates and the people who socioeconomic distress in order to obtain variation in service conditions
reside there. for police. Such bias was intentional and consistent with neighborhood
selection in earlier studies (Black & Reiss, 1967; Reiss, 1971; Whitaker,
Workload 1982).
A minimum of 28 shifts were observed in each of the 24 study
Some scholars have argued that patrol ofcer behavior is an beats. Altogether, eld researchers observed three hundred twenty-
inevitable adaptation to situations of excessive demands (Bayley, two different patrol ofcers (194 in Indianapolis and 128 in
1985; Whitaker, 1982). Balancing resources with workload could lead St. Petersburg) for nearly 6,000 hours with nearly 12,000 police-
to variations in the execution of particular tasks (Lipsky, 1980). In a citizen interactions. Citizens were crime victims, witnesses, service
district with substantial crime and scarce resources, only serious recipients, or suspects. The selection criterion for the current study
matters might receive exclusive priority. Therefore, workload is likely included all non-trafc suspects with whom the police had contact.
to inuence the workgroup mandate to regulate and control the police
response to criminal and deviant conduct. One might expect more Interviews
vigorous police activity in low-workload areas because ofcers may
devote more time, energy, and resources to both minor and major In addition to observation, interviews were completed with nearly
problems, compared to those ofcers assigned to high-workload areas. all patrol ofcers in the two departments. The interviews included 398
of 426 patrol ofcers in Indianapolis, and 240 of 246 patrol ofcers in
The present research St. Petersburg. Interviews consisted of mixed questions posed by
trained interviewers not involved in the eld observations. Survey
Although past research provided some guidance on the relation- questions obtained information on ofcers district assignments, the
ship between neighborhood context and police behavior, the ndings length of time they were in that district, and personal characteristics
were inconsistent. As noted earlier, the lack of a systematic theory of of the ofcers, their occupational outlooks, work experiences, and
how and why police behavior varied across physical space was the perceptions of citizens.
impetus for Klinger's (1997) theory of social ecology. The intent of the For analytical purposes, data from the interviews were merged
current study was to provide the rst empirical test of Klinger's with observation data of ofcers having had contact with citizens
postulations on the ecological correlates of police vigor. identied as suspects. Ofcers assigned to the district for less than one
While data limitations precluded a full test of Klinger's model, the year were eliminated from the analysis in order to concentrate on
current study measured two of the four mediating variables and their ofcers with the greatest familiarity with levels of crime and deviance
inuence on vigor, including whether police cynicism and district and district work rules that developed among ofcers assigned there.
workload mediated the crime/vigor relationship.4 The study hypothe- The nal data le consisted of 1,555 suspects with whom 226 ofcers
sized that district workload would lead to greater resource constraints, had contact based on all study variables that had non-missing data
and that cynicism and workload, collectively, would create workgroup and sufcient variation for multivariate modeling. One hundred sixty
rules that promoted less vigor in high crime districts. For this inquiry, nine cases were omitted from the analysis due to missing ofcer
district workgroups consisted of those ofcers working in the same survey and observational data; another 157 were removed because
district who shared many of the same work experiences. ofcer assignments to the district were for less than one year. The
elimination of these cases did not result in any discernible differences
Data and methods in reported coefcients or signicance levels.

The current study used data from four sources originally collected Measures
by the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN), including system-
atic social observation, in person interviews with ofcers, census data, Dependent variable
and police crime records. The Project on Policing Neighborhoods
(POPN) was conducted in two cities (Indianapolis, Indiana and St. The absence of research examining Klinger's (1997) vigor concept
Petersburg, Florida) in the summers of 1996 and 1997, respectively could be the result of lack of a precise denition of vigor on which to
(for a detailed description of POPN and the research sites, see build a clear ranking of police behavior. A single rank structure for vigor
Mastrofski, Parks, Reiss, Worden, DeJong, & Snipes, 1998.) The is made complicated because much of the [ecological] theory may well
Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) and the St. Petersburg Police be applicable for understanding spatial variations in dimensions of
484 J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488

police behavior besides formal authority [emphasis added] (Klinger, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault for 1996 in Indianapolis
1997, p. 280). For the purposes of the current study, vigor represented and 1997 in St. Petersburg. This measure was calculated for each
the degree to which ofcers used their formal legal authority by district based on census data population estimates, standardized by
responding to the conduct of citizens within the framework of the state. 1,000 residents.6
Borrowing from research in legal sociology (Baumgartner, 1999;
Black, 1976) and studies that quantied police behavior beyond arrest Police ofcer cynicism
or force dichotomies (Brown, Novak, & Frank, 2009; Engle, Sobol, & The current study used three Likert items to measure patrol ofcer
Worden, 2000; Klinger, 1996; Myers, 2002; Sobol, 2008; Sun & Payne, attitudes as proxy measures to capture their level of cynicism towards
2004; Terrill, 2001; Worden & Myers, 1999), ve mutually exclusive residents in the district they were assigned. The cynicism scale
categories of behavior formed the police vigor measure.5 Behaviors summed three items obtained from the POPN survey data set, which
included in the measure sufciently discriminated among various asked ofcers: How many of the citizens in your beat would call the
courses of police action and allowed examination of the amount of police if they saw something suspicious; How many of the citizens
formal legal authority ofcers applied to situations where each decision in your beat would provide information about a crime if they knew
they made ranged from more (vigorous) to less (lenient). Ordinally something and were asked about it by the police; and How many of
ranked, the categories included: (1) no action/release; (2) suggest, the citizens in your beat are willing to work with the police to try to
persuade, request and negotiate; (3) command and threaten the suspect solve neighborhood problems. The response options for each of these
to do something; (4) interrogation and search; and (5) arrest. The items were from Most (1) to None (4).7 High scores reected a
higher category of vigor is likely to bring suspects and their conduct to perception by ofcers that citizens were uncooperative, representing
the attention of other agencies or institutions, which often resulted in a more cynical outlook. Principal component factor analysis conrmed
greater legal consequences under the law. The percentage of encounters that these three items loaded on one factor with an Eigenvalue = 1.97
in which each action represented the highest level of vigor used by in explaining 65.8 percent of the variance. The Cronbach alpha score
ofcers was as follows: no action (20.1 percent); suggest/persuade indicated acceptable reliability ( = .74).
(6.9 percent); command and threaten (6.8 percent); interrogate and
search (46.0 percent); and arrest (20.1 percent). The information below Workload
offers further explanation and description of these categories. Greater workload could lead to limited resources, which, in turn,
If an ofcer asked, advised, or attempted to get the suspect to do might compel ofcers to nd ways to allocate and prioritize their time
something, it was coded as suggested, persuaded, requested, or more efciently. The measure of workload for this study considered
negotiated. The denition of a command was a statement by an ofcer the amount of time ofcers had available during their observed shifts
in the form of an order (e.g., wait here, drop the gun, leave her by assessing the percentage of their time that was directed activity
alone). A threat involved a command followed by a specic (e.g., assigned time) versus non-directed activity (e.g., unassigned
consequence for not complying (e.g., drop the knife or else you are time). For this study, workload was another deviance driven indicator
going to get pepper-sprayed, leave here now, or else you are going to of behavior because patrol district workgroup rules prioritized calls
be arrested). For this study, commands and threats were collapsed into for service as levels of deviance rose and resources became scarce.
a single category. Since any activity or encounter turns on how it began (e.g., at the
Actions that constituted more vigor than a command or threat were prompting of a dispatcher or supervisor or self-initiated by the
interrogation and search since the ofcer took the next formal step and ofcer), the percentage of time when the ofcers activity and
temporarily deprived persons of their liberty by using legal authority to encounter was assigned or directed across different shifts during the
issue a citation or refer for future prosecution. Unlike a custodial arrest, course of the observational period reected how much work there
however, a citizen detained for search or interrogation was generally was in the district. One might infer that ofcers with less time to
free to go after the ofcer completed those tasks. A non-custodial arrest themselves (e.g., unassigned time) had more work to do.
was obviously not a consensual police-citizen encounter because no Derived in large part from two studies (DeJong et al., 2001; Engel &
reasonable person would feel free to decline. In other words, such a Worden, 2003), the present study created the workload measure
person was seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and the (percentage of assigned time) by summing the total activity and
ofcer is exerting more formal authority (e.g., vigor). Ofcers who encounter time, the total assigned activity and assigned encounter
interrogate and use search tactics to gather information were formally time, and computing the quotient. The resulting measure reected the
intervening in the lives of a suspect to a much greater extent than simply percentage of time that ofcers had unassigned during their observed
negotiating or commanding the suspect to do something. shift. A higher percentage of unassigned time indicated less work.
Interrogation included those instances when the ofcer ques-
tioned a suspect in order to gain information that established the Control variables
suspects or their colleagues involvement in unlawful activity. Search This analysis included a number of control variables consistently
included questioning the citizen and searching or frisking the citizen, found to be predictors of various forms of police behavior in prior
the citizen's possessions, or the area immediately around the suspect. studies (e.g., Engel & Silver, 2001; Engle, Sobol, & Worden, 2000;
For this study, interrogation and search were collapsed into a single Mastrofski, Reisig, & McCluskey 2002; Smith & Visher, 1981; Weitzer,
category since both were common practices utilized by ofcers during 2000; Worden & Shepard, 1996; Terrill, 2005; Terrill & Mastrofski,
investigations of incidents and might precede a more vigorous 2002). Variables used in the analysis included suspect characteristics,
response such as arrest. The study's design excluded trafc cases such as gender, race, approximate age, and approximate wealth;
and included only suspects with whom the police had contact, whether the suspect was under the inuence of drugs or alcohol the
thereby resulting in few instances of citations. For analytical purposes, suspect's emotional state and whether the suspect was disrespectful
citation was merged with arrest simply because there were only to the responding ofcer.
thirty-seven suspects cited in the sample. The analysis included the length of time the ofcer was in one
particular district since it likely inuenced perceptions of citizens and
Independent variables district problems. Analysis also incorporated the level of concentrated
disadvantage in the districts where the encounter occurred due to
District crime levels the likely effect neighborhood structural characteristics might have
For this study, the crime rate measure used Uniform Crime Report on police behavior. Borrowing from Sun et al. (2008), a four-item
data for the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, weighted factor score, including the percent poor, percent unemployed,
J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488 485

Table 1
Descriptive statistics for study variables

Variable Hypothesized Effect Denition

Vigor Level of Vigor: 1 = no action; 2 = suggest, persuade, negotiate; 3 = command and threaten; 4 = interrogate and
search; 5 = cite and arrest.
District Crime - Violent crime rate per 1,000 District residents
Discretionary Time + Time free of assignments from dispatch or supervisors (percentage)
Police Cynicism - Scale ranging between 3-12. Created by summing 3 separate items (1 = most; 2 = some; 3 = few; 4 = none)
How many of the citizens in beat would call the police if they saw something suspicious.
How many of the citizens in beat would provide information about a crime if they knew something and were
asked about it by the police.
How many of the citizens in beat are willing to work with the police to try to solve neighborhood problems
Years in District +/- Number of years observed ofcer has worked in district
Concentrated Disadvantage +/- Percentage unemployed plus percentage below 50 percent poverty plus percent female-headed households plus
percent Black
Site + 1 = Indianapolis; 0 = St. Petersburg
Suspect Characteristics
Gender + 1 = male, 0 = female
Race + 1 = non-White, 0 = White
Age - 0 = not elderly, below 60, 1 = elderly, 60 and above
Wealth - 1 = chronic poverty, 2 = low, 3 = middle, 4 = above middle
Determined by the citizen's appearance and dress, property and possessions, as well as the information provided
by the citizen about his or her possessions (e.g., job, home, other resources)
Drug/Alcohol + 1 = yes, 0 = no
Citizen displays indication of alcohol or drug use, including the smell of alcohol on the breath, slurred speech,
impaired motor skills, or unconsciousness
Emotional + 1 = yes, 0 = no
Citizen unable to perceive situations as a reasonable person would or to control one's emotions and actions
Disrespect + 1 = yes, 0 = no
Citizen displays disrespect to the individual or authority of the police ofcer
Seriousness + 1 = no crime or disorder, 2 = public disorders and victimless crimes, 3 = minor property crime and other
misdemeanors, 4 = major property crime and minor violence, 5 = major violent crime
Conict + 1 = none, 2 = calm verbal, 3 = agitated verbal, 4 = threatened assault, 5 = assault.
Level of conict between disputing parties
Flee + 1 = yes, suspect ees; 0 = all other
Did the suspect ee the scene of the encounter?
Weapon + 1 = yes, 0 = no
Did citizen have any sort of weapon on his or her person or within jump and reach?
Expects Violence + 1 = yes, 0 = all other
Was there any indication of anticipated violence before the encounter began?

percent female-headed families, and percent Black, made up the violent crime rate) should relate to the mediating variables (cynicism
concentrated disadvantage measure (e.g., Sampson, Raudenbush, & and district workload). Second, the independent variable (district
Earls, 1997). The city in which the incidents occurred were controlled violent crime) should relate to the dependent variable (vigor). Third,
because Indianapolis ofcers stressed aggressiveness and a get-tough there should be a relationship between the mediator and the
policy; whereas, St. Petersburg's approach to crime emphasized solving dependent variable. Fourth, the signicant relationship observed
problems and community organizing. Thus, it was expected that between the independent variable and the dependent variable under
Indianapolis ofcers should be more vigorous compared to St.
Petersburg ofcers.
The multivariate analysis included several legal controls presumed
to inuence vigor. The severity of the alleged citizen behavior that Table 2
Descriptive statistics of study variables
prompted the encounter, the level of conict between the victim and
the suspect, whether the suspect ed the scene, whether there existed Variables Range Mean Standard Deviation
potential for danger (weapon present), and whether the ofcer Vigor 1-5 3.38 1.40
expected violence prior to encountering the suspect might all be District Crime 12.50-25.68 20.76 3.31
considered possible inuences on police vigor. Table 1 provides an Discretionary Time 0.10-0.49 0.24 0.50
overview of each of the study variables, how those variables were Police Cynicism 3-12 6.05 1.87
Years in District 1-25 5.74 3.85
coded as well as the hypothesized relationship to vigor (+, -, +/- signs Concentrated Disadvantage -1.19-2.17 0.36 0.93
denote positive, negative and underdetermined directions of inu- Site 0-1 0.46 0.49
ence, respectively). Table 2 provides descriptive statistics for each of Suspect Characteristics
the variables used in the analysis. Gender 0-1 0.75 0.43
Race 0-1 0.63 0.48
Age 0-1 5.08 1.45
Analysis and ndings Wealth 1-4 2.26 0.56
Drug/Alcohol 0-1 0.27 0.45
Both bivariate and multivariate analyses were conducted in this Emotional 0-1 0.04 0.19
Disrespect 0-1 0.11 0.31
research. The former focused on the relationships between ofcer
Legal
cynicism, workload, district violent crime rate and police vigor. Seriousness 1-5 2.30 2.17
Multivariate analyses were performed following Baron and Kenny's Conict 1-5 1.22 0.67
(1986) recommendation to test for mediation (e.g., see also Murphy & Flee 0-1 0.03 0.18
Tyler, 2008 for use of this strategy). In order to have mediation, four Weapon 0-1 0.03 0.19
Expects Violence 0-1 0.09 0.28
conditions should exist. First, the independent variable (district
486 J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488

Table 3 Table 4
Correlation matrix for study variables (n= 1,555) Ordered logistic regression predicting vigor and testing mediating effects of cynicism
and district workload
Variable Vigor District Crime Police Cynicism Workload
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Vigor 1.00
District Crime 0.09** 1.00 Variable Coef Odds Coef Odds Coef Odds
Police Cynicism -0.19 0.15** 1.00 Ratio Ratio Ratio
Workload -0.04 -0.16** 0.38 1.00
District Crime 0.04** 1.04 0.04** 1.04 0.03 1.03
* p b .05, ** p b .01 (two-tailed test). (0.01) (0.01) (0.02)
Discretionary -- -1.14 0.32 -0.89 0.41
Time (0.66) (0.71)
Police Cynicism -- -0.01 0.98 -0.03 0.97
study should disappear after controlling for the mediator if, in fact, (0.03) (0.02)
there was a mediating effect (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Years in District -- -- 0.00 1.00
Table 3 reports the bivariate correlations between study variables (0.07)
and shows that vigor signicantly correlated with district crime Concentrated -- -- -0.01 0.98
Disadvantage (0.05)
(r = .09) and district crime signicantly correlated with ofcer cynicism
Site -- -- -0.37** 0.69
(r = .15) and workload (r = -.16). In separate analyses controlling for (0.10)
city, (results not shown in Table 3) the data indicated signicant Gender -- -- -0.16 0.85
organizational differences. Indianapolis ofcers were signicantly more (0.11)
vigorous in high crime districts (r = .09). Vigor also signicantly Race -- -- 0.06 1.06
(0.11)
correlated with workload (r = -.11), while district crime signicantly Age -- -- -0.35 0.70
correlated with cynicism (r = .37). In contrast, only workload and (0.29)
district crime were correlated in St. Petersburg (r = -.26). Such Wealth -- -- 0.04 1.04
differences are rather signicant and point to the likely role of different (0.08)
Drug/Alcohol -- -- 0.15 1.16
enforcement policies in both departments and the manner in which
(0.09)
organizational factors differentially affect vigor. The inter-correlations Emotional -- -- 0.18 1.19
among the remaining independent variables were examined (results (0.13)
not shown). None of the correlation coefcients exceeded .50. Disrespect -- -- 0.60*** 1.82
The dependent variable is a ve level ordinal measure of police (0.15)
Seriousness -- -- 0.29*** 1.34
behavior ranging from no action to arrest. Ordered logistic regression
(0.04)
is appropriate when the dependent variable is ordinal and the effects Conict -- -- 0.01 1.01
of the independent variable are constant across all levels of the (0.07)
dependent variable (Agresti, 2002; Long & Freese, 2006; McKelvey & Flee -- -- 1.98*** 7.24
(0.30)
Zavoina, 1975; Scott, Goldberg, & Mayo, 1997). The parallel lines
Weapon -- -- 0.58** 1.79
assumption is not violated in all estimated models, thereby making (0.26)
ordered logistic the correct estimation technique. Long (1997) Expects -- -- 0.28 1.32
suggested that reporting signicance levels of the logit coefcients Violence (0.19)
offered little, and a better approach was to interpret the ways in which Chi Square 9.15** 11.13** 208.08***
Pseudo R2 .002 .002 .048
the parameters corresponded to changes in probabilities or odds
ratios. An odds ratio greater than one denoted a positive effect on the * p b .05, ** p b .01, *** p b .001, n = 1,555. Table entries include ordered logistic
regression coefcients and standard errors in parentheses.
odds of a more vigorous response, and an odds ratio of less than one
indicated the odds of a vigorous police response declining.
Table 4 displays the results from the ordered logistic regression compared to the odds against those not eeing. The odds of a
equations estimated following Baron and Kenny's (1986) recommen- vigorous police response was 79 percent greater if the suspect had a
dation. Step 1 shows a signicant relationship between violent crime weapon within jump and reach (odds ratio = 1.79), and 34 percent
rate and vigor, while step 2 shows that this direct effect is not mediated greater if the offense was serious (odds ratio = 1.34). Such ndings
by ofcer cynicism and district workload since district crime still has a were consistent with studies reporting that ofcers were more
signicant and positive effect on vigor. This nding directly contrasted inclined to invoke their formal legal authority when there was an
the theory tested. Whereas the theory predicted an inverse relationship ofcer safety issue (Fyfe, Klinger, & Flavin, 1997; Sun et al., 2008).
between district crime and vigor, the ndings revealed the relationship The ndings presented here involved district-level variables (crime
as positive and signicant. Once seriousness of the offense and other and workload) in a citizen-level analysis. Since there are many citizens
controls entered into the model, however, the signicant district crime encountered in each of the seven study districts, the sample size of
effect on vigor disappeared. One interpretation could be that other district-level predictors inated to the sample size of the citizen-level
variables (other than ofcer cynicism and district workload) might variables, making it easier to reject the null hypothesis. That is, the
mediate the effect of district crime on vigor, or the relationship may be signicance of the variables may be overestimated and the results of
spurious.8 the study should be interpreted with caution.
Several situational and suspect control variables were signicantly
related to vigor in the direction hypothesized. As shown in Table 4, the Discussion and conclusion
odds of a vigorous police response increased by 82 percent (odds
ratio = 1.82) if the suspect was disrespectful to ofcers compared to Prior research showed that police behavior varied across different
being deferential. This nding was consistent with others who neighborhood contexts. Much of this research was not guided by any a
reported disrespectful suspects were signicantly more likely to priori theoretical expectation of why particular neighborhood ecolog-
have action taken against them (Engle et al., 2000; Worden & Shepard, ical variables were analyzed, nor what the signicant neighborhood
1996; but see Klinger, 1994). As previous scholarship indicated effects might mean. The main purpose of this study was to provide the
(Micucci & Gomme, 2005; Smith et al., 1984; Smith & Visher, 1981; rst empirical test of Klinger's (1997) theory of social ecology that
Worden, 1989), suspects who ed the scene saw the odds of a identied district crime levels as a vital precursor of how police
vigorous police response increase by more than 600 percent ofcer's perceive citizens and how formal legal authority applied.
J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488 487

It was hypothesized that police would be less vigorous in districts combination with individual level data more appropriately; (2) the
with higher levels of crime because ofcers would be more cynical renement of occupational outlook and outcome measures; (3) the
about the effectiveness of vigorous police action. Workload and examination of and comparison between different ecological corre-
greater resource constrains were also predicted to reduce the capacity lates from smaller units of aggregation; and (4) the use of a research
of the workgroup to deal with problems equally, thereby leading to design with data collection intended to measure key theoretical
more leniency as district crime levels increased. constructs across multiple departments with different ecological and
Consistent with the theory, the bivariate results indicated that ofcers organizational conditions. Recent research has begun to consider the
were more cynical in high crime districts, although contrary to ecological correlates on police attitudes (Sobol, 2010), and various
theoretical expectations, the bivariate ndings also showed that vigor forms of police behavior (Terrill & Reisig, 2003). The line of inquiry
increased with district crime rate. Interestingly, departmental differences established here will hopefully stimulate improved empirical tests and
suggested that different enforcement priorities in both departments theoretical advancements in future studies that examine the complex
might affect the vigor with which police used their formal authority. relationship between neighborhood context and police behavior.
Perhaps reecting their more aggressive and get-tough police strategy
(DeJong et al., 2001; Parks et al., 1999), bivariate results indicated that Acknowledgements
Indianapolis ofcers were signicantly more vigorous and cynical in high
crime areas (see also Fyfe, 1988; White, 2001). Grant No. 95-IJ-CX-0071 from the National Institute of Justice
In order to test the meditating effect of cynicism and district supported data for this analysis. Opinions or points of view expressed
workload, a series of multivariate regression equations analyzed the in the article do not necessarily represent the ofcial positions or
entire sample (n = 1,555). Controlling for relevant factors, the ndings policies of the National Institute of Justice or the U.S. Department of
showed little support for the mediating effect of cynicism and district Justice. The author wishes to thank Scott W. Phillips and Ivan Y. Sun
workload on the crime/vigor relationship. One possible explanation is for their helpful and insightful comments and suggestions during the
that other variables could mediate the direct effect of district crime on preparation of this manuscript.
vigor, although it is also possible that the results are spurious.
Although this was the rst systematic empirical analysis of
Klinger's theory of social ecology, several limitations existed. As Notes
mentioned, one of the primary limitations dealt with the unit of
1. There are some qualications, however, since the theory mainly applies to
aggregation for this study. The patrol district was the focus of police
patrol ofcers and may not apply accurately to supervisors (e.g., Lieutenants and
cynicism levels, workload, and level of crime and deviance. Although Sergeants). The theory may also be less applicable to nonurban, state and federal
Klinger provided several reasons why police behavior might not vary police ofcers due mainly to the emphasis on geographic location and the manner in
markedly across patrol districts in lower spatial levels (e.g., beats, which police work is organizationally structured.
rather than districts), some of the null ndings reported here might be 2. One of the limitations of Klinger's (1997) theory is that it does not specify the
size of an area that makes up the ecological environment that affects police behavior. It
due to the large district ecological measures. Future research might
is possible, however, that a police district is too large adequately to examine the
explore patrol beats, census tract areas, or block levels. Since crime important social process that might inuence police activity. Data limitations for this
hot spot locations exist in many neighborhoods, the unique crime study do not allow one to test the theory at a smaller level of aggregation. This partial
patterns within these locations might inuence ofcer attitudes and test of Klinger and the role of district level correlates still contributed to our
understanding of police behavior and established an empirical foundation from upon
behavior. Simply presuming the district is the fulcrum for the
which future research might build.
development of ofcer work rules ignores the impact that intra- 3. See also White (2001) who examined the impact of administrative policy on
district variation in crime and deviance may have on police police shootings using interrupted time series analyses and twenty-three years of
perceptions and their approach to the job. Disaggregating ecological shooting data. He reported that formal administrative policy might be a more
level correlates down to the smaller spatial unit may provide signicant control over deadly force compared to the personal philosophies of the
Chief or Commissioner.
information on whether ecological conditions within those locations
4. From a theoretical point of view, X (district violent crime rate) is hypothesized
differentially inuence ofcer attitudes and behavior. Future research to be causally prior to Z (police cynicism and district workload), which is hypothesized
might also consider additional aggregates across multiple jurisdic- to be causally prior to Y (police vigor).
tions to provide a better test of the theory and provide more variation 5. It is important to note that this measurement approach assumes that an ofcer
also considers such actions to range along a continuum, with each action representing
across critical ecological measures.
more or less in terms of the amount of formal authority which is invoked. It is plausible
Second, the ndings presented here may be a product of the way in that this measure imposes ordinality on the measurement of vigor when in fact,
which key theoretical variables were operationalized. The cynicism ofcers might not view it as such.
variable might be less than optimal for a test of Klinger's theory 6. Two matters are relevant and worth considering about this particular measure.
because the items used to construct this measure were adapted from First, the homicide rate might be a better measure of a district's level of crime because
ofcial crime rates (UCR data) measure police behavior in the form of taking reports
the POPN survey data set that asked general questions about ofcer
(Black, 1970, 1971). Since the dependent variable in this study is a measure of police
perceptions of residents willingness to work with them to solve behavior (e.g., vigor), and the independent variable is violent crime rate, conation
neighborhood problems. These measures might not adequately between the independent and dependent variable is possible. However, because there
characterize cynicism and alternative measures might yield different were so few homicides across the seven districts in both cities, this study opted to use
results. It would be advantageous for future research to consider the violent crime rate. Second, using crime data for only one year might present an
inaccurate image of district crime levels and that an average of the violent crime rate
ofcer perceptions of criminal justice system failings since Klinger over a period might be a more powerful indicator of how the crime rate contributed to
contended that indicators of criminal justice system failure caused police cynicism. Data limitations precluded using previous years crime data, though
cynicism. such a concern may be inconsequential since crime patterns have been reported to be
A third limitation was the problem of unmeasured mediating relatively stable and constant (Bursik, 1986; Stark, 1987; Whyte, 1943).
7. Paoline (2001) used the same items in his analysis examining whether
variables. Measures of ofcer perceptions of victim deservedness and
occupational attitudes are representative of the traditional police culture or more
normal crime were not available in the POPN data set, thereby making fragmented. While he calls his index cooperation, it is a measure that assessed
this a partial test of Klinger's theory. While difcult to measure, the whether ofcers perceive citizens in a favorable light, with implications for inuencing
inclusion of such concepts would provide a more complete test of ofcer conduct.
Klinger's theory and the mediators presumed to affect the crime and 8. Other multivariate models (not shown) were examined and were not able to
improve on the model displayed in the text. Slight differences were uncovered with
police vigor relationship. alternative model specications, although, no appreciable increase in the amount of
To summarize, attention should be given to four primary research variation explained is obtained, nor were any of the variables markedly different in
areas: (1) multi-level modeling to estimate ecological measures in terms of strength and signicance.
488 J.J. Sobol / Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 481488

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