Document Type

Article

Abstract

Traditionally explanations of police use of force have relied on a racial threat perspective. Tests of this perspective, however, typically offer a single indicator of threat (the relative size of the black population) and fail to adequately take into account the complex relationship between racial threat and police use of force. Drawing on racial threat, social disorganization, and police use of force literature, this study hypothesizes that macro-level patterns in police use of force are embedded in the racial and structural composition of cities and the organizational climate of local politics and police departments. The present study examines these relationships using official police use of force data collected in 73 large U.S. cities. Structural equation analyses suggest that structural indicators associated with racial threat and social disorganization/disadvantage impact police use of force indirectly through the influence of police organizational factors. On the other hand, the political climate and the level of social disorganization in urban areas have a direct bearing on the rates of police use of force. The implications of these findings for research and theory on police use of force are discussed.

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