A Pooled Time-Series Assessment of the Determinants of Police Strength in Large U.S. Cities

Stephanie Kent, Cleveland State University
Jason T. Carmichael, Ohio State University - Main Campus
Ronald Helms, Western Washington University


Researchers who study police strength in U.S. jurisdictions have found direct relationships between police strength and racial cleavages as well as between economic inequality and the capacity of police forces. Yet empirical evidence about this relationship in more recent years has not been a common topic of study. Research on the relationship between political explanations and police strength has also been scarce. We explore these theoretical issues by looking at the factors that determine the amount of law enforcement personnel in U.S. cities in 1980 and 1990. Findings suggest that both economic inequality and racial threat are important predictors of police strength, but race matters more in 1990. Additional indicators of conflict including unemployment are strong predictors for more police. Finally, violent crime does not produce more police but the disorder produced by high numbers of alcohol vendors has a positive effect on per capita police. These results suggest that multiple explanations are necessary to explain this form of social control at the city level, and that politically-based conflict explanations in particular should be considered