Local Police Force Size and the Severity of the 1960s Black Rioting

Document Type



Published by Sage Publications Inc. in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, volume 31 no. 6, 1987, p. 601-614. Bryant users may access this article here.


Sage Publications, Inc.

Publication Source

The Journal of Conflict Resolution


The repressive power of a government to quell rebellious activity is a central variable in all social science theories of rebellion. Several previous studies of the 1960s black riots have tried to incorporate the repressive-power construct into city-level explanations of riot activity. This article continues in this tradition and focuses on the relationship between relative police force size and the severity of black rioting that cities incurred during the 1960s. It is the first study of this relationship to use data on the entire rioting era (1964-1971). Controlling for other causally relevant predictors (e.g., black population size and racial inequality), the regression of a composite measure of riot severity on relative police force size (the number of police per 10,000 blacks) reveals a significant--inverse "U"--curvilinear relationship. These results fit a pattern previously uncovered at the cross-national level of analysis.