Modern police tactics, police-citizen interactions, and the prospects for reform

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Abstract

High-profile incidents of police misconduct have led to widespread calls for law enforcement reform. But prior studies cast doubt on whether police commanders can control officers, and offer few policy remedies because of their focus on potentially immutable officer traits like personality. I advance an alternative, institutional perspective and demonstrate that police officers-sometimes characterized as autonomous-are highly responsive to managerial directives. Using millions of records of police-citizen interactions alongside officer interviews, I evaluate the impact of a change to the protocol for stopping criminal suspects on police performance. An interrupted time series analysis shows the directive produced an immediate increase in the rate of stops producing evidence of the suspected crime. Interviewed officers said the order signaled increased managerial scrutiny, leading them to adopt more conservative tactics. Procedural changes can quickly and dramatically alter officer behavior, suggesting a reform strategy sometimes forestalled by psychological and personality-driven accounts of police reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Politics
Volume80
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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