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Police Use of Excessive Force in Minority Communities: A Test of the Minority Threat, Place, and Community Accountability Hypotheses

Brad W. Smith, Malcolm D. Holmes
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2013.12056 83-104 First published online: 1 February 2014


We extend existing research on police use of coercive mechanisms of social control against racial/ethnic minority populations by testing three structural hypotheses regarding excessive force. The minority threat hypothesis maintains that the greater the proportion of minority residents in a city, the greater the use of coercive crime control mechanisms. The place hypothesis argues that spatially segregated minority populations are the primary targets of coercive control. The community accountability hypothesis maintains that organizational characteristics of police departments promote the use of excessive force against minorities. Combining data from several sources for cities with populations of 100,000 or more, we include the key variables of these theoretical models in analyses of sustained excessive force complaints. Findings provide support for the minority threat hypothesis but indicate that place effects are contingent on the existence of a very high degree of racial/ethnic segregation. They offer little support for the community accountability hypothesis.

  • excessive force
  • police brutality
  • policing
  • race/ethnicity
  • segregation

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