"Did you call the police? What did they do?" An empirical assessment of Black's theory of mobilization of law

Edem F. Avakame, James J. Fyfe, Candace Mccoy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (1992-1994), this study tests Donald Black's theory about the behavior of law. specifically the decision to mobilize social control through legal agencies. Results suggest that numerous extralegal factors (e.g., race, gender, wealth, education) affect both crime victims' decisions to call for police intervention and police decisions to arrest. The analysis also suggests that factors predicting calls to police may be different from those presaging arrest. We conclude that the degree of social control (or. in Black's terms, the quantity of law) mobilized is not explained significantly by many of the factors that the theory predicts: The poor relied on the police more than did middle-class people, and women used the law more often than men. These findings may indicate that existing measures of crime and legal mobilization do not adequately capture the variation in Black's dependent variable: That is, people with higher status and more access to resources may mobilize social control at the compensatory and therapeutic end of the scale, rather than at the penal end. Alternatively, the data may illustrate changes in police and courts' handling of domestic violence incidents -changes that have occurred since Black first advanced his theory. We discuss implications about the possibility of social change and the need for revising theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-792
Number of pages28
JournalJustice System Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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