What Conditions Affect Police Response Time? Examining Situational and Neighborhood Factors

Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(1) 61–80
What Conditions Affect
! The Author(s) 2016
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Police Response Time?
DOI: 10.1177/1098611116657327
Examining Situational
and Neighborhood
Jae-Seung Lee1, Jonathan Lee2,
and Larry T. Hoover3
Police response time to calls for service is a crucial factor in evaluation of police
performance. While domestic violence is now considered serious interpersonal
violence, factors associated with response time to domestic violence incidents
are underexplored. Using hierarchical linear modeling, over 10,000 cases of calls
for service for domestic violence across 438 census tracts in Houston, Texas,
were examined. The result of multilevel analysis revealed that complainant’s race,
weapon involvement, and day and time of incidents were associated with response
time at the situational level. At the neighborhood level, concentrated disadvantage,
immigration concentration, and residential stability were significantly associated with
response time.
police, response time, calls for service, domestic violence, hierarchical linear
model, social disorganization
1Department of Political Science, Criminal Justice & Organizational Leadership, Northern Kentucky
University, Highland Heights, KY, USA
2Penn State Harrisburg, School of Public Affairs, Middletown, PA, USA
3College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jonathan Lee, Penn State Harrisburg, School of Public Affairs, 777 West Harrisburg Pike, Middletown,
PA 17057, USA.
Email: JLee@psu.edu

Police Quarterly 20(1)
While domestic violence is now considered serious interpersonal violence, it had
not been treated as such until the 1970s in the United States (Erez, 1986; Fagan,
1996; Johnson, 2007). The social movement for women’s rights during the late
1960s and 1970s reframed the societal perception of violence against women.
Subsequently, the criminal justice system has enforced Draconian measures to
promote specif‌ic and general deterrence of domestic violence (Melton, 1999;
Lee, Zhang, & Hoover, 2013b). An example would be the nation-wide adoption
of a mandatory arrest policy by law enforcement agencies during the 1980s
(Johnson, 2007; Sherman, & Berk, 1984). Additionally, domestic violence has
received a great deal of academic attention, leading researchers to examine not
only its correlates but also how the justice system responds to it.
The importance of police response time has been highlighted in the literature
(Eck, & Rosenbaum, 1994; McEwen, Connors, & Cohen, 1986). Studies found
that police rapid response increased citizens’ satisfaction with police (McEwen
et al., 1986) and arrest rates (Cihan, Zhang, & Hoover, 2012; Clawson & Chang,
1977; Isaacs, 1967; Kansas City (MO) Police Department & United States of
America, 1978). Sherman (1992) pointed out that practitioners recognize
response time as an indispensable factor to evaluate police performance.
Hence, police response time to calls for service (CFS) has been one of the crucial
criteria to evaluate police work (Kelling & Moore, 1988; Sherman, 1992).
However, police response time in domestic violence has been underexplored.
Findings in the previous studies suggest that there exists a relationship
between police response time and ecological characteristics (Mladenka & Hill,
1978; Stevens, Webster, & Stipak, 1980). For example, Klinger (1997) posited
that police would become more cynical and their vigor to respond to citizens’
demands would be diminished after responding to repeated CFS from a high
crime neighborhood. Accordingly, the current study attempts to examine the
situational factors af‌fecting police response time to domestic violence incidents.
Examining police response time from an ecological perspective provides insight
into the association of police strategy for patrol operations and allocation of
patrol resources.
Literature Review
Theoretical and Empirical Bases
Police behavior has been examined from the perspective of several theories.
Rational choice theory argues that police behavior is driven primarily by legal
factors in order to secure legitimacy in their presence as well as enforcement
(Lee, Zhang, & Hoover, 2013a). Literature has identif‌ied common legal factors
including property damage, victim injuries, and weapon involvement (Alpert,
Dunham, & MacDonald, 2004; Avakame & Fyfe, 2001; Belknap, 1995;

Lee et al.
Feder, 1996; Finn & Stalans, 1995; Friday, Metzgar, & Walters, 1991; Garner,
Buchanan, Schade, & Hepburn, 1996; Hall, 2005; Kaminski, DiGiovanni, &
Downs, 2003; Kane, 2000; Terrill, Paoline, & Manning, 2003; Worden, 1995).
On the other hand, extra-legal factors, such as individual social class, gender,
or race, may be predictive of police behavior (Avakame, Fyfe, & McCoy, 1999;
Lee et al., 2013a). Also, police decision patterns show a signif‌icant variation
between neighborhoods based on demographic composition and economic indi-
cators (Lee, 2014). It could be anything from of‌f‌icers developing callousness to
repeated CFS to a systematic prof‌iling against specif‌ic group of individuals or
neighborhood, as conf‌lict theorists argue (Black, 1980; Klinger, 1997; Lawton,
2007; Sampson, 1986). In this regard, social disorganization theory appears to tie
in closely with police behavior (Kubrin & Weitzer, 2003; Sampson, 2011). First,
it argues that negative characteristics of a neighborhood such as poverty,
unemployment, and residential instability, weakens the community’s ability to
provide informal social control, thereby leading to more crime (Shaw & Mckay,
1969). The f‌indings in empirical studies support that neighborhood characteris-
tics were signif‌icantly associated with crime and delinquency (Hipp & Boessen,
2013; Pals & Kaplan, 2013; Sampson & Lauritsen, 1994; Swatt, Varano, Uchida,
& Solomon, 2013). Accordingly, high volume of CFS may originate from rela-
tively marginalized neighborhoods and render of‌f‌icers to question the ef‌fective-
ness of prompt response to calls. Second, it provides dif‌ferent dimensions of
neighborhood prof‌ile that could be the basis for intentional and systematic use
of discretion by police of‌f‌icers. For example, of‌f‌icers may be more responsive to
calls from neighborhoods with engaged and af‌f‌luent residents than ones from
neighborhoods with low informal social control among residents, due to a pol-
itical bias against marginalized group. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the
relationship between police response time and neighborhood characteristics.
Police Response Time: Its Importance in Policing
Kelling and Moore (1988) pointed out that police response time plays an import-
ant role in evaluating the ef‌fectiveness of police work. A growing body of
research has stressed the importance of police response time. McEwen et al.
(1986) found in three dif‌ferent cities that rapid response to citizen CFS increased
the level of citizen satisfaction with the police. The result was consistent with
Percy’s (1980) f‌inding that rapid police response reduced citizen’s chance of
being victimized and consequently increased their satisfaction with police ser-
vices. A later study by Brandl and Horvath (1991) examined 436 crime victims’
evaluations of the police and conf‌irmed the result.
As well as the ef‌fect of response time on public satisfaction with the police,
response time is associated with arrest probability. Clawson and Chang (1977)
found that rapid response was related to high rates of on-scene arrests.
It was consistent with the result of the earlier study conducted by Isaacs (1967).

Police Quarterly 20(1)
Even though other studies reported no relationship between police response time and
arrest rates (Kansas City, 1978; Pate, Ferrara, Bowers, & Lorence, 1976; Spelman &
Brown, 1984), recent studies found the same result as Isaacs (1967) and Clawson and
Chang. Using the data obtained from a U.K. police agency in 1996, Blake and
Coupe (2001) examined 407 burglary incidents. They concluded that rapid police
response increased the arrest of burglars at the scene. The later study of Coupe and
Blake (2005) reported the same result. Using 406 burglary cases which only included
arrest incidents from the United Kingdom, the study found that response time was
signif‌icantly and positively associated with arrest rates after controlling other situ-
ational factors, such as time of the incidents, workload per patrol unit, stage of
burglary, and origin of service calls. A recent study by Cihan et al. (2012) found
the same result from the analysis of in-progress burglary CFS data.
Factors Associating With Response Time
Along with the recognition of the importance of response time, previous
studies also attempted to examine the factors af‌fecting police response time.
For example, the study of Mladenka and Hill (1978) suggested that there was
a relationship between police response time to CFS and other factors such as
socioeconomic status, race, and day of the incidents. Especially, the study found
that police response time was shorter in neighborhoods with low income and a
high level of minority population. The result of the study conducted by Steven
et al. (1980) was consistent. The analysis of 21,957 CFS across 16 census tracts in
York, Pennsylvania, revealed that police response time varied by census tracts
when the ef‌fects of other factors such as a situational factor and type of call were
taken into account. In the result, the situational...

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