A Typology of Citizen Presentations in Police Use of Force Events: Are There Ecological Drivers?

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Subject MatterArticles
A Typology of Citizen
Presentations in
Police Use of Force
Events: Are There
Ecological Drivers?
Molly McCarthy
, Louise Porter
Michael Townsley
, and
Geoffrey Alpert
This study identifies subtypes of citizen behavioral characteristics within police use of
force events and assesses ecological influences on these subtypes. Data comprised
police use of force reports, recorded crime data, and census data. Latent class
analysis was applied to 19,900 police use of force events to identify latent classes
of citizen behavioral characteristics. A five class-solution demonstrated best fit and
comprised the following classes: violent, unstable, and drug or alcohol affected;
apparent mental disorder and possessing a weapon; alcohol-related violence; suspi-
cious and fleeing; and violent behavior and threatening a weapon. Chi-square analysis
and multilevel logistic regression showed each citizen presentation class was asso-
ciated with distinct patterns of offence types and contexts for police use of force.
Ecological influences were notable for three classes of citizen presentations. The
clustering of citizen behaviors within incidents provides insights into the nature and
distribution of types of police–citizen encounters where force is used.
Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina, Currell College,
Columbia, SC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Molly McCarthy, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University, 176 Messines Ridge Road, Brisbane,
QLD 4122, Australia.
Email: molly.mccarthy@griffithuni.edu.au
Police Quarterly
2019, Vol. 22(3) 360–387
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611119835535
police use of force, citizen behavior, latent class analysis, ecological factors, commu-
nity, mental disorder, offence types
The recent series of highly publicized officer-involved deaths of primarily African
American citizens across a number of cities in the United States has brought
renewed attention to the contexts in which police use force, and the characteristics
of police–citizen encounters that may influence the escalation of police use of force.
This has led to an expanded body of research focusing on the attributes of individ-
uals and situations that may impact how police perceive and respond to risk, with a
particular focus on the influence of citizen race or ethnicity (Fryer, 2016; Goff,
Lloyd, Geller, Raphael, & Glaser, 2016; Nix, Campbell, Byers, & Alpert, 2017).
Within the literature examining the influence of individual and situational fac-
tors in police use of force encounters, a number of citizen behavioral characteristics
have been found to be related to the frequency or severity of police use of force,
such as citizen resistance, demeanor, and intoxication or cognitive impairment
(Bolger, 2015; Klahm & Tillyer, 2010; Lersch & Mieczkowski, 2005). However,
to date researchers have assessed the influence of citizen behavioral characteristics
in police use of force events independently, that is, focusing on the unique relation-
ship between each characteristic and police use of force. Although there is evidence
regarding the unique influence of a number of behavioral characteristics on police
use of force, it remains unclear how these characteristics may cluster or coalesce
within events potentially producing particular contexts. In addition, while a long-
standing and growing body of research has considered the influence of ecological or
community-level factors (such as racial heterogeneity and violent crime rates) on
police use of force behavior (Lee, Jang, Yun, Lim, & Tushaus, 2010; Lee, Vaughn,
& Lim, 2014; Smith, 1986; Smith & Holmes, 2014; Terrill & Reisig, 2003), there is a
dearth of research considering the influence of ecological factors on citizen behav-
iors in these events. This study seeks to address these two research gaps, firstly by
examining how citizen behavioral characteristics may be distributed or cluster
within police use of force events, and then by examining whether ecological factors
may influence these citizen behavioral characteristics.
The Influence of Citizen Behavioral Characteristics on Use of Force by Police
Police behavioral responses are clearly a critical factor in whether force is used
in an interaction between police and citizens. However, citizen behavior is argu-
ably another critical element of such incidents, constituting both a practical and
legal trigger for the use and escalation of police force. The following sections will
review the evidence in support of the influence of a range of citizen behavioral
characteristics on police use of force.
McCarthy et al. 361

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