Racial arrest disparities in the USA by rural-urban location and region


Background: Urban racial arrest disparities are well known. Emerging evidence suggests that rural policing shares similar patterns as urban policing in the US, but without receiving the same public scrutiny, raising the risk of biased rural policing going unnoticed. Methods: We estimated adult and juvenile arrest rates and rate ratios (RR) by race, rural-urban status, and US region based on 2016 Uniform Crime Reporting Program arrest and US Census population counts using general estimating equation Poisson regression models with a 4-way interaction between race, region, age group, and urbanicity. Results: With few exceptions, arrest rates were highest in small towns and rural areas, especially among Black and American Indian populations. Arrest rates differed between US regions with highest rates and racial disparities in the Midwest. For example, arrest rates among Black adults in the rural Midwest were 148.6 arrests [per 1,000 population], 95% 131.4-168.0, versus 94.4 arrests, 95% CI 77.2-115.4 in the urban Midwest; and versus corresponding rural Midwest arrests among white adults, 32.7 arrests, 95% CI 30.8-34.8, Black versus white rural RR 4.54, 95% CI 4.09-5.04. Racial arrest disparities in the South were lower but still high, e.g., rural South, Black versus white adults, RR 1.86, 95% CI 1.71-2.03. Conclusions: Rural areas and small towns are potential hotspots of racial arrest disparities across the US, especially in the Midwest. Approaches to overcoming structural racism in policing must include strategies targeted at rural/small town communities. Our findings underscore the importance of dismantling racist policing in all US communities.

Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities