Dual-process theory of racial isolation, legal cynicism, and reported crime

John Hagan*, Bill McCarthy, Daniel Herda, Andrea Cann Chandrasekher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Why is neighborhood racial composition linked so strongly to police-reported crime? Common explanations include over-policing and negative interactions with police, but police reports of crime are heavily dependent on resident 911 calls. Using Sampson’s concept of legal cynicism and Vaisey’s dual-process theory, we theorize that racial concentration and isolation consciously and nonconsciously influence neighborhood variation in 911 calls for protection and prevention. The data we analyze are consistent with this thesis. Independent of police reports of crime, we find that neighborhood racial segregation in 1990 and the legal cynicism about crime prevention and protection it engenders have lasting effects on 911 calls more than a decade later, in 2006–2008. Our theory explains this persistent predictive influence through continuity and change in intervening factors. A source of cumulative continuity, the intensification of neighborhood racial concentration and isolation between 1990 and 2000, predicts 911 calls. Likewise, sources of change—heightened neighborhood incarceration and home foreclosures during the financial crisis in 2006–2008—also predict these calls. Our findings are consistent with legal cynicism theory’s focus on neighborhood disadvantage, racial isolation, and concerns about police protection and crime prevention; they correspond less with the emphasis of procedural justice theory on police legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7190-7199
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 10 2018


  • Incarceration
  • Legal cynicism
  • Procedural justice
  • Racial isolation
  • Residential foreclosures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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