We never call the cops and here is why: A qualitative examination of legal cynicism in three Philadelphia neighborhoods

Patrick J. Carr, Laura Napolitano, Jessica Keating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

480 Scopus citations


This article presents data from the completed first wave of a multiwave comparative study of crime, danger, and informal social control that focuses on youth living in three high-crime neighborhoods in Philadelphia, PA (N = 147). The study is a purposive sample of delinquent and nondelinquent young men and women in one predominantly African-American, one predominantly Latino, and one predominantly white neighborhood, and researchers have completed in-depth interviews and self-reports with each subject. This article focuses on the narratives that youth living in high-crime neighborhoods build around their contact with police and the strategies the young people propose for crime reduction in their communities. The data illustrate that most youth in each neighborhood are negatively disposed toward police and that this is grounded in the lived experience of negative encounters with law enforcement. However, when youth expounded on what they thought would reduce crime, they overwhelmingly chose increased and tougher law enforcement. We analyze these findings to determine whether support exists for a subcultural approach or a cultural attenuation/procedural justice argument, and we explore the implications of our findings for community-based crime control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-480
Number of pages36
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


  • Crime reduction
  • Cultural attenuation
  • Dispositions toward police
  • Youth


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