Causes of Rising Arrest Rates


A primary concern among those working to lower incarceration rates is the extent that arrest rates seem to be rising even when crime rates should be expected to be stable. Understanding causes of arrest rates can help in working to reduce them.

The following is an excerpt from an anti-jail flyer and it helps illustrate the general public understanding of why arrest rates increase.[1]

Surging arrest rates – Our growing incarceration rate is in part a result of the growth in arrest rates. Arrest rates are in part discretionary, i.e. a result of policy decisions by the police departments about where to concentrate resources. These can be reversed.

  • Between 2007 and 2011 the number of drug arrests by the Iowa City Police doubled, from 332 to 626. The reason for this “surge” in the War on Drugs, according to Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart, “could be as simple as the fact that we have more officers working in the streets.”
  • From 2011 to 2012, the number of arrests by the University of Iowa Police went from 1792 to 2018, a 13% increase in one year alone. The UI Police either charged or arrested more people than the total number of people charged or arrested by the police departments of Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa combined.[2]
  • In 2012, 1097 individuals were booked into the jail on drug offenses, a 40% increase since 2007. Marijuana is the most popular substance in drug charges locally.

The above statements would suggest that the surge in arrests is entirely due to larger numbers of police and more intensive policing practices. However, it’s reasonable to conclude that, unexpected increases in crime or drug use could produce unexpected increases in arrest rates. People aren’t arrested for no reason. Additionally, many 911 calls that result in an arrest originated from a citizen, and are not police initiated.

Here is a more comprehensive list of why arrest rates may up. Some of these would result in increased arrest rates even when crime is down:

  • More calls to 911 requesting a police officer respond to illegal or suspicious activity.
  • A lowered tolerance for criminal activity and drug production/sales/use resulting in more funding for law enforcement.
  • Greater numbers of police for a community.
  • More proactive methods of policing.
  • Law enforcement officers stopping people for seemingly insignificant violations (such as not signaling for a turn) following a crime in an effort to possibly find a suspect.
  • Newer technologies allowing police to be more effective and successful.
  • Programs like CrimeStoppers engaging more citizens in apprehending suspects.
  • Community-wide alerts that allow more citizens to be engaged in apprehending suspects.

It’s true that the presence of active, engaged, attentive, well-funded, and hard-working law enforcement officers (in higher numbers) can results in higher arrest rates, but other factors are present as well.

The most effective way to reducing arrests is to explore ways of reducing crime.



  1. The excerpt above is from the No New Jail group in Johnson County, Iowa.
  2. Comparisons to other communities aren’t as meaningful if we don’t know the population of those communities and crime rates. A larger community with greater law enforcement concerns will likely have more arrests than a smaller community.

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