Examining the Diffusion of Police Arrests across Urban Space: Territoriality, the Police Role, and Isomorphism

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Student Contributions
June 2012
Jonathon A. Cooper

The effectiveness of police behavior on criminal activity has improved over the last thirty years. Yet, some police practices remain ineffective against crime. Because there is the potential for disconnect between their behavior and crime control, the police’s legitimacy is threatened. Legitimacy is important because its acquisition is requisite for any organization to exist. Police therefore look to other sources of legitimacy, such as their institutional environment: The network of agencies who share similar challenges, and the collection of entities that influence the form and function of the police (e.g., sovereigns). When the police consider the practices and expectations of their institutional environment through the process of isomorphism, agencies resemble one another despite idiosyncratic exigencies. This process endows them with legitimacy. Largely studied at the interorganizational level, isomorphism can also apply at the intraorganizational level. This study considers the latter level of analysis. Because the study of isomorphism in policing has lacked empirical assessment, the current study borrowed from the field of spatial analysis. This is feasible insofar as police behavior can be understood territorially, including isomorphic processes. By controlling for the most pertinent territorial predictors of police behavior, spatial dependence can be understood as the manifestation of isomorphism. Further, local indicators of spatial autocorrelation in interaction with spatial dependence can be understood as the institutional influence of sovereigns. Considerable attention is spent elaborating these concepts. Across four dependent variables (juvenile arrests made by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department for 2008 for violent crime, property crime, drug crime, and gun crime), isomorphic processes were overwhelmed by ecological variables for three criteria. For juvenile drug arrests, the behavior of distinct areal units was influenced by several sovereign entities from within the police department. Methodologically, this study introduces a novel empirical way of exploring isomorphism. Theoretically, it enriches the study of isomorphism by introducing the importance of territoriality. In terms of police practice, it suggests an innovative method for police organizational change, a process that is typified by resistance. By engaging sovereign entities in the change process, this resistance can be overcome in a naturally occurring ecological phenomenon.