Enforcement Trends in the City of St. Louis From 2007 to 2017: Exploring Variability in Arrests and Criminal Summonses Over Time and Across Communities

The goal of this study is twofold: (a) to describe trends in enforcement activity in the city of St. Louis from 2007 through 2017 and (b) to document community variation in these trends. Five types of enforcement actions are examined: felony, misdemeanor, municipal, and bench warrant arrests and criminal summonses‐in‐lieu of arrest. Results indicate that enforcement activity decreased over the study period, particularly for nonfelony arrests among Blacks. City‐wide trends obscure some variability in neighborhood enforcement. Neighborhood trends in enforcement varied by type of action, but in all cases, trends were conditioned by racial composition. For example, misdemeanor and bench warrant arrests exhibited steeper declines in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Black residents, resulting in a narrowing of the race gap. In contrast, differences in criminal summonses across neighborhoods of varying racial compositions increased. The effects persisted net of measures of economic disadvantage, community location, residential mobility, household composition, calls for service, and population size. The findings highlight the importance of disaggregating enforcement trends by race and place and documenting changes in less serious, but more prevalent, types of law enforcement activity.