Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 275–298 | Cite as

The Distribution of Police Protection

  • David Thacher
Original Paper


This paper investigates the distribution of police protection in the United States by race and class. By examining police employment and demographic data for every general-service police jurisdiction in the US, I find that poor and heavily-nonwhite jurisdictions employ far fewer officers per crime than wealthy and white jurisdictions do. That finding contrasts with an older body of literature on the distribution of police protection, which examined the distribution of police resources across neighborhoods within individual cities and found little inequality. I also find that inequality in police protection has grown since 1970—a finding that contrasts with the increasingly equal distribution of resources for education, the other major claim on local government revenues—largely because criminal victimization became more concentrated in disadvantaged communities. (In the process, I find that contrary to widespread impressions, the crime rate fell very little in the most disadvantaged jurisdictions from 1980 to 2000, and violent crime actually increased). Finally, by examining data about federal grant programs, I find that the rise of federal contributions to local policing in the 1990s slowed the growth of inequality somewhat, suggesting that revenue-sharing has a real but modest role to play in reducing inequality in police protection. Together these findings highlight a neglected aspect of equality in criminal justice.


Policing Inequality Distributive justice 



I would like to thank Frank Levy for helpful discussion; the editors and two anonymous reviewers at JQC for very helpful comments; and Terry Adams, Gary Bauer, Galo Falchettore, Justin McCrary, and Grace York for providing data.


  1. Anderson E (1990) Streetwise. University Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson E (1999a) Code of the street. W.W. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson ES (1999b) What is the point of equality? Ethics 109:287–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson ES (2007) Fair opportunity in education: a democratic equality perspective. Ethics 117:595–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banzhaf HS, Randall W (2008) Do people vote with their feet? An empirical test of Tiebout. Am Econ Rev 98:843–863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Basolo V (2000) City spending on economic development vs. affordable housing. J Urban Aff 22:317–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bayley D, Shearing C (2001). The new structure of policing. National Institute of Justice Research Report, NCJ 187083Google Scholar
  8. Berk R (1991) Toward a methodology for mere mortals. Sociol Methodol 21:315–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cottrol R, Diamond R (1991) The second amendment: toward an afro-americanist reconsideration. Georgetown Law J 80:309–361Google Scholar
  10. Coulter P (1980) Measuring the inequity of urban public services. Policy Stud J 8:683–698CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dowding K, John P, Biggs S (1994) Tiebout: a survey of the empirical literature. Urban Stud 31:767–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dworkin R (2000) Sovereign virtue. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Fischel W (1989) Did Serrano cause proposition 13? Nat Tax J 42:465–473Google Scholar
  14. Fischel W (2009) Making the grade: the economic evolution of American school districts. University Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  15. Freedman D (1991) Statistical models and shoe leather. Sociol Methodol 21:291–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Frug G (1998) City services. NY Univ Law Rev 73:23Google Scholar
  17. Hamilton B (1975) Zoning and property taxation in a system of local governments. Urban Stud 12:205–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harding D (2009) Violence, older peers, and the socialization of adolescent boys in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Am Sociol Rev 74:445–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hickman M, Reaves B (2006) Sheriff’s Offices, 2003, Bureau of Justice Statistics Report NCJ 211361Google Scholar
  20. Hines J, Thaler R (1995) The flypaper effect. J Econ Perspect 9:217–226Google Scholar
  21. Hochschild J (1995) Facing up to the American dream. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  22. Hochschild J, Scovronick N (2003) The American dream and the public schools. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Holcombe R, Asghar Z (1981) The determinants of federal grants. South Econ J 48:393–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hoxby C (2000) Does competition among public schools benefit students and taxpayers? Am Econ Rev 90:1209–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hughes K (2006) Justice expenditure and employment in the United States, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. (NCJ 212260)Google Scholar
  26. Jones J (2005) Confidence in Local Police Drops to 10-Year Low, Gallup News Services. (retrieved 9/22/2010)
  27. Kakwani N, Wagstaff A, van Doorslaer E (1997) Socioeconomic inequalities in health: measurement, computation, and statistical inference. J Econometr 17:87–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kennedy D (1994) Can we keep guns away from kids. Am Prospect 5:74–80Google Scholar
  29. Kennedy R (1997) Race, crime, and the law. Vintage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Kleiman M (1992) Against excess: drug policy for results. Basic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Levitt S (1999) The changing relationship between income and crime victimization. Federal Reserve Bank NY Econ Policy Rev 5:87–98Google Scholar
  32. Levy F, Wildavsky A, Meltsner A (1974) Urban Outcomes. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  33. Lindgren S, Zawitz M (2001). Linking uniform crime reporting data to other datasets, Bureau of Justice Statistics Technical Report, NCJ 185233Google Scholar
  34. Lineberry R (1977) Equality and urban policy: the distribution of municipal public services. Sage, Beverly HillsGoogle Scholar
  35. Lobao L, Hooks G, Tickamyer A (2007) The sociology of spatial inequality. SUNY Press, AlbanyGoogle Scholar
  36. Maguire E (2001) Research evidence on the factors influencing police strength in the United States. In: Christopher K, Ed Maguire, Gretchen M (eds) A national study of police hiring and retention issues in police agencies. Report submitted to the National Institute of JusticeGoogle Scholar
  37. Maguire E, Snipes JB, Uchida C, Townsend M (1998) Counting cops: estimating the number of police officers and police agencies in the United States. Policing Int J Police Strat Manag 21(1):97–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Maguire K et al (2005) Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics, 2003. USGPO, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  39. Maltz M (1999) Bridging gaps in police crime data, a discussion paper from the BJS Fellows Program, Bureau of Justice Statistics report NCJ 176365Google Scholar
  40. Mladenka K, Hill K (1978) The distribution of urban police services. J Polit 40:13–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Moore M (1992) Problem-solving and community policing. Crime Justice 15:99–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Murray S, Evans W, Schwab R (1998) Education finance reform and the distribution of education resources. Am Econ Rev 88:789–812Google Scholar
  43. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968) Report of the national advisory commission on civil disorders. Bantam Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. Ostrom E (1983) Equity and police services. In: Whitaker G, Phillips CD (eds) Evaluating the performance of criminal justice agencies. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  45. Ostrom E, Whitaker G (1973) Does local community control of police make a difference? Some preliminary findings. Am J Polit Sci 17:48–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peterson P (1981) City limits. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  47. Rae D (1981) Equalities. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  48. Rich R (1982) Analyzing urban service distributions. Lexington Books, LexingtonGoogle Scholar
  49. Roth J et al (2000) National evaluation of the COPS program. Urban Institute, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  50. Rothstein J (2007) Does competition among public schools benefit students and taxpayers? Am Econ Rev 97:2026–2037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sklansky D (1999) The private police. UCLA Law Rev 46:1165–1287Google Scholar
  52. Skogan W, Fridell L (2004) Fairness and effectiveness in policing. National Academies Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith S (2007) Lone pursuit: distrust and defensive individualism among the black poor. Russell Sage Foundation, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  54. Snyder T (2008) Digest of education statistics 2007. National Center for Education Statistics, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  55. Stark K, Zasloff J (2002) Tiebout and tax revolts. UCLA Law Rev 50:801–858Google Scholar
  56. Stone CN (2004) It’s more than the economy after all: continuing the debate about urban regimes. J Urban Aff 26:1–19Google Scholar
  57. Thacher D (2004) The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Robbed: inequality in US criminal. Victimization, 1974–2000. J Quantitat Criminol 20:89–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Thacher D (2005) The local role in homeland security. Law Soc Rev 39:635–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tiebout C (1956) A pure theory of local expenditures. J Polit Econ 64:416–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. U.S. Dept of Justice (1977) Criminal victimization in the U.S., 1975. USGPO, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  61. U.S. Dept of Justice (2010) Criminal victimization in the U.S., 2007. USGPO, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  62. Walzer M (1973) In defense of equality. Dissent 20:399–408Google Scholar
  63. Weicher J (1971) The allocation of police protection by income class. Urban Stud 8:207–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zald M (1991) Sociology as a discipline: quasi-science, quasi-humanities. Am Sociol 22:165–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban PlanningThe University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations