Variability in the Use of Misdemeanor Arrests by Police Agencies from 1990 to 2013: An application of group-based trajectory modeling

Arrest for minor offenses has become one tool that some police departments
employ to fight crime and disorder in their jurisdictions. Dubbed by some as “broken windows” or “zero tolerance” policing, a few police agencies in the 1990s and 2000s notably and significantly increased their use of arrest for such misdemeanors, such as New York City and Baltimore. But was this the case for other law enforcement agencies in the United States? Our analysis is the first to examine long-term trends in the use of misdemeanor arrests in a sample of U.S. law enforcement agencies using group-based trajectory modeling. Results show that police agencies have distinct longitudinal patterns of use of arrests for minor crimes from 1990 to 2013; some
agencies significantly increased their use of arrests for minor crimes while others did not. Further analysis of possible explanations for agency membership in any given longitudinal trajectory found that agencies with similar patterns in their use of misdemeanor arrests were not similar on demographic or crime characteristics. This finding suggests that the decision to increase the use of arrest for minor offenses may have been a policy choice by agencies influenced by factors not detected here