Dirtbag cars: Proactive policing, minorities, and the poor

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Doris Marie Provine


Policing, Minorities, Poor, Criminal justice

Subject Categories

Criminology | Political Science | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


There are incentives within both the police department and the criminal justice process that induce officers to patrol the poor, especially racial and ethnic minorities, to a greater degree. The institutional push to produce arrests and citations leads officers to proactively patrol. I use proactive policing here to mean any action an officer takes in which she identifies a crime committed, rather than a citizen or victim reporting some sort of unwanted behavior. Proactive work by officers is almost exclusively done within poor neighborhoods--where minorities are more likely to be found. My primary data sources are observations and interviews with police officers in a major California city. I conducted 25 in-depth interviews and observational periods or ride-alongs. I observed patrol officers for 193 hours, resulting in 147 observed police mobilizations, and 321 citizen-officer interactions.

In this dissertation I make a series of arguments. One is that police departments' inducements to proactive policing lead officers to heavily police the poor and, by result, minorities. Furthermore, the reason minority communities become policed more than white communities is that officers "hunt" for infractions or crimes within poor sections of a city. Finally, probationers and parolees are also policed to a greater degree and, therefore, the policing of the poor is increased because those individuals on probation or parole are most often low income or no-income individuals.

The trend in the criminal justice system has been to continue to put greater numbers of poor individuals under its jurisdiction (often through drug laws). This trend has been given many different names "the criminal justice juggernaut" (Websdale 2001), "the culture of control" (Garland 2000), management of the underclasses (Feeley and Simon 1992) or the "waste management model" (Simon 1993). The new goal of the criminal justice system seems to be management of social undesirables, and the police play an active part in that orientation through proactive policing.


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