Citation Versus Arrest by North Carolina Law Enforcement Officers: A County-Level Analysis

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Professor Jessica Smith and graduate research assistant Ross Hatton.

Charged with identifying best practices and offering recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust, the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies develop and adopt policies and strategies that reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety. Specifically, it recommended that agencies adopt preferences for “least harm” resolutions, including the use of citation in lieu of arrest for low-level offenses. Increased use of citations offers other potential benefits, including increased law enforcement efficiency. A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that citations offer a time savings of just over an hour per incident. Additionally, increased use of citations can help reduce unnecessary pretrial detentions of low-risk defendants and associated costs, unfairness, and negative public safety outcomes. An arrest triggers an initial appearance and imposition of conditions of pretrial release. Because secured bonds are the most common condition imposed in North Carolina, see Jessica Smith, How Big a Role Does Money Play in North Carolina’s Bail System (July 2019), the decision to make an arrest versus issue a citation often results in imposition of a secured bond and associated wealth-based detentions. For these and other reasons, justice system stakeholders are interested in citation in lieu of arrest policies, particularly for low-level crimes. One common question that stakeholders have been asking is: What do we know about how often officers use citations or make arrests in North Carolina? Read on for answers.

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