In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Politics and Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • History of Urban Politics
  • Political Structure and Participation
  • Public Policies
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Macro-Level Studies
  • Social Disorganization and Institutional Anomie Theories
  • Politics and Punishment
  • Police Organization and Styles
  • The Effect of Police on Crime
  • Racial and Ethnic Composition of Police
  • Police Force Size and Expenditures
  • Violence Against Police

Criminology Urban Politics and Crime
Thomas D. Stucky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0125


The study of urban politics and crime is at a very basic level an interdisciplinary endeavor, bringing together political science, political sociology, sociology of law, criminology, and criminal justice theory and research, among others. Although for many years politics, particularly the basic stuff political scientists study, was not seen as central to the study of crime, it has become much more so in recent years. There has been a growing recognition that understanding politics is necessary to understand crime and how we can and should respond to it. The articles and books cited in this entry focus on the nature of city politics, how it varies, and the implications this has for crime and justice policies. One question that is addressed is what drives public policies on criminal justice. Some argue that criminal justice policies simply reflect the desires of the voting public. Others argue that there are limited resources and those resources are often controlled by those in power, particularly the racial majority. So one theme that is explored here is the extent to which “racial threat” drives criminal justice policies. The entry also traces the various ways that politics, particularly institutional politics (as opposed to rioting and protests, which are often thought of as noninstitutional politics) are included in recent research on various criminal justice questions, such as the causes of crime, the nature and amount of punishment, how to treat criminals, how to pay for city services such as the police and the courts, the number and activities of the police, and violence against the police.

General Overviews

There are not many overviews of urban politics and crime per se. Perhaps the most comprehensive is Stucky 2013. This article covers numerous aspects of urban politics as well as theory and research on politics, crime and punishment. For basic discussions of broad theoretical perspectives on crime control which all pay at least some attention to politics, see Liska 1987. Trounstine 2009 offers a nice discussion of why additional attention should be paid to city politics in political science research. Engel 1999 provides a nice general summary for undergraduates or novices in the study of local and state politics, and Scheingold 1991 offers a broad critical analysis of Americans’ fascination with street crime and how it influences and is influenced by politicians and actors within the criminal justice system.

  • Engel, Michael. 1999. State and local government: Fundamentals and perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.

    This is a good basic textbook on the structure and functioning of city government. Good resource for those who are new to the subject of state and local politics.

  • Liska, Allen E. 1987. A critical examination of macro perspectives on crime control. Annual Review of Sociology 13:67–88.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    In this review article, Liska describes three general perspectives on crime control—functionalism, rational choice, and conflict—and the role (or lack of it) of politics in each. For each, he describes the major factors driving how governments attempt to control crime.

  • Scheingold, Stuart A. 1991. The politics of street crime: Criminal process and cultural obsession. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

    This book discusses the obsession that Americans have with street crime and how this influences the way politicians and criminal justice agencies handle crime and criminals.

  • Stucky, Thomas D. 2013. Crime, politics, and punishment: Criminological research for political sociologists. Sociology Compass 7:561–572.

    DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12048

    This article provides a broad overview of the theory and research on urban politics and crime and policing, as well as the research on politics and punishment.

  • Trounstine, Jessica. 2009. All politics is local: The reemergence of the study of city politics. Perspectives on Politics 7:611–618.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1537592709990892

    This article advocates for a renewed focus on local politics within the field of political science, discussing the reasons for limited attention to this area in recent years, and the value of such a reconsideration, in particular the ability to ask very different research questions.

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