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Urban Police

Policing Minority Citizens, Policing Juveniles, Policing Mentally Disordered Citizens, Policing The Homeless, Policing Crowds

In the 1970s, changes in the nature of economic development and growth left many northern industrial cities stagnating with declining populations. During this time period, many urbanites moved to the suburbs to escape the congestion and rising crime rates of inner cities. Described as "white flight," middle-and upper-class, predominantly white Americans moved to the suburbs, further eroding the tax base in inner city areas. Poverty and crime increased in these areas, where remaining residents were primarily lower-income minorities. Massey and Denton argue that African Americans and Puerto Ricans are the only groups who have "simultaneously experienced high levels of residential segregation and sharp increases in poverty," which created underclass communities, characterized by "poverty, family instability, welfare dependency, crime, housing abandonment, and low educational achievement" (pp. 146, 130).

Policing these underclass communities is a distinctly urban phenomenon that is particularly challenging for police. Egon Bittner has described "skid row" as a distinct geographic area within inner cities where people "lack the capacities and commitments to live normal lives," (1967b, p. 705). This limited capacity may be due to drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, or poverty. Skid row areas are often characterized by high crime rates and poverty, and in America's "throw away society," the people living in these areas are treated as expendable. They reside in areas where "the overall air is not so much one of active distrust as it is irrelevance of trust" (1967b, p. 705). Dealing with situations where suspects and victims often have "nothing to lose" requires special handling by police. Most police tactics involve "containing" these areas.

Previous studies have shown that the majority of service calls in urban areas are concentrated within a few addresses. For example, Sherman, Gartin, and Buerger reported that 50 percent of the calls for service in Minneapolis during a three-year period came from only 3 percent of the addresses within the city. This entry examines some of the issues involved with special populations and types of crimes that present policing problems in these "hot spots." Special populations considered in this entry include minorities, juveniles, mentally ill citizens, the homeless, and crowds. In addition, special types of situations described include narcotics enforcement, gun violence, minor offenses and incivilities, and domestic violence. For each of these topics, the role, strategies, and changes in the policies of urban police will be described.



City of Chicago v. Morales.

Tennessee v. Garner, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law