Legal Cynicism, Collective Efficacy, and the Ecology of Arrest

Criminology, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2011

40 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2010 Last revised: 6 Dec 2010

See all articles by David Kirk

David Kirk

University of Oxford

Mauri Matsuda

Portland State University

Date Written: December 3, 2010


Ethnographic evidence reveals that many crimes in poor minority neighborhoods evade criminal justice sanctioning, thus leading to a negative association between the proportion of minority residents in a neighborhood and the arrest rate. To explain this finding, we extend recent theoretical explications of the concept of legal cynicism. Legal cynicism refers to a cultural orientation in which the law and the agents of its enforcement are viewed as illegitimate, unresponsive, and ill-equipped to ensure public safety. Crime may flourish in neighborhoods characterized by legal cynicism because individuals who view the law as illegitimate are less likely to comply with it, yet because of legal cynicism these crimes may go unreported and therefore unsanctioned. This study draws on data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to test the importance of legal cynicism for understanding geographic variation in the probability of arrest. We find that in neighborhoods characterized by high levels of legal cynicism, crimes are much less likely to lead to an arrest than in neighborhoods where citizens view the police more favorably. Findings also reveal that residents of cynical neighborhoods are less likely to engage in collective efficacy, and that collective efficacy mediates the association between legal cynicism and the probability of arrest.

Keywords: legal cynicism, collective efficacy, arrest, race-ethnic disparities, neighborhood effects

JEL Classification: K42, K4

Suggested Citation

Kirk, David and Matsuda, Mauri, Legal Cynicism, Collective Efficacy, and the Ecology of Arrest (December 3, 2010). Criminology, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2011, Available at SSRN:

David Kirk (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Mauri Matsuda

Portland State University ( email )

PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207
United States

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