Understanding Misdemeanor Enforcement: The Roles of Calls for Service and Community Characteristics

This study examines the roles of calls for service (i.e., police‐related 911 calls) and community characteristics in explaining variation in enforcement rates for low‐level, misdemeanor offenses, which make up the large majority of police enforcement activity. The study site is Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the unit of analysis is the police department’s 65 patrol beats, studied over a 10‐year period, during 2006–2015. Overall, misdemeanor enforcement rates vary at the beat level, and that variation can be largely explained using a combination of indicators about community characteristics and calls for service. The findings indicate, though, that the calls for service rate is the most important variable in explaining misdemeanor enforcement variation. These findings inform both future research on police activity, and current policy debates about what drives enforcement rates and the role of discretion in enforcement outcomes.