Friday, February 10, 2012

Small town vs. Large town Policing

POLICING MAYBERRY: The Work Routines of Small-Town and Rural Officers.

Small and rural town policing seem to be quite different than urban, larger city policing, based off research and a study done by John Liederbach of the University of North Texas. There are many misconceptions and misleading information regarding the similarities and differences between policing small, country farming towns with less population compared to larger, urban, densely populated areas. Being born and raised in a small town of 1200, and 3 full time sworn police officers, I felt a personal connection to this study, and thought it was worthy of sharing. There is a ton of information and distinctions between the two different types of communities that are policed and different approaches to typical day to day procedures and tasks that rural and urban police systems do.

This summary study takes an in-depth look at two essential components of policing; how officers spend most of their time on the shift, and the relationship between small and large town officers and the citizens these officers encounter with during their shift. They began by noting a few summaries that other studies have concluded regarding the comparisons and findings of small town versus urban city policing. This allows Dr. Liederbachs study to be supported by other recent studies regarding the same information and comparisons. The article is a mostly a summary of other research and explains its findings; while it also offers a few reasons as to why small town policing has very little research or observation. According to the research and findings by Dr. Liederbach and many other studies that are noted and documented in the article, 90% of all U.S. police departments employ fewer than 50 sworn officers, and three quarters of all municipal departments’ employ fewer than 25 officers (Walker, 1999). This means small town police agencies and lower sized policed departments are the bulk of the American police system. These agencies are rarely studied and have a lack of empirical research.

The study concludes that typical urban, large city officers are routinely patrolling in vehicles, performing administrative duties (paperwork, report writing) and driving from one location to another, and also taking personal breaks and performing non-duty tasks (Cordner, 1979; Frank, Brandl, & Watkins, 1997; Greene & Klockers, 1991; O'Neill & Bloom, 1972; Parks, Mastrofski, DeJong, & Gray, 1999; Whitaker, 1982). These sources are detailed in the actually article. Compared to urban officers in larger cities, small town police have tighter connections and ties to the community than most large city officers. According to Meagher (1985), these officers are mostly participating in certain crime prevention activites (checking parks, patrolling school ares, and surveying parking lots). The study conducted by the University of North Texas was quite extensive and provided detailed information about how they conducted the experiment. The methods and population sizes were comparable to other studies that are referenced throughout the article. They found typical results that are very comparable to the other studies referenced. This comes to no surprise for me, considering I’ve seen the aspects of small town policing first hand. Living in a small town, you know everyone, and it seems as though people are governed by the people. Police and government are usually out of your business; displaying a more relaxed and friendly environment compared to larger, more dense cities.

The study that was completed was quite interesting and provided some proof that rural officers are typically engaged in a different form of policing compared to larger city departments. Rural focus on crime prevention and community ties while large departments have a more reactive, routine form of policing.


Walker, S. (1999). Police in America. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Meagher, M. S. (1985). Police patrol styles: How pervasive is community variation? Journal of Police Science and Administration, 13, 36-45.


  1. I thought that your post about small town vs. large city policing data was very interesting because everyone forgets about the small town departments. I feel like the lack of data on small down departments is attributed to the fact that researchers want to save time by getting a larger sample size from the cities where they would have spent a lot more time trying to gather records from many different small town areas. Also, I believe that the lack of information could be attributed to the fact that people believe that rural areas have less crime, but it really only has a different kind of crime. The more spectacular incidents occur in the large cities which is more interesting to most people, this leads to the 90% of departments which are rural get looked over. Great post.

  2. I have a few family members that are in both rural and urban departments. I do think that rural departments are a little unappreciated. Not that they face as many challenges as urban departments, but rural areas are generally small staffed. On top of that they have to cover a very large area, depending where the department is, they may have to cover up to 20+ miles, which makes responding to emergencies a little more challenging.

  3. This is so true. There is a huge difference in those two kinds of policing. I live in a small town called Mahomet. Everyone in the town knows the name of every single officer we have. It seems like it's a little bit laid back in this town, for the most part. When I got off work the other week, I stopped by the gas station where the main officer usually can be found around that time (it was around 3am). I went inside, he was there, standing at the counter, drinking his coffee and reading the newspaper. I thought it was funny that he has the time to just stay there and read on his shift. It's a small town, and he gets a lot of free time.

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