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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 10

Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the 10th issue of the SEBP newsletter. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.

Addressing the ‘Dirty Little Secret’ of Deterrence: Testing the Effects of Increased Police Presence on Perceptions of Arrest Risk by Rebecca Bucci

Deterrence theory is based on the belief the criminal justice system can reduce crime by impacting individual’s perceptions they will be punished. With regard to police, this relates to increasing perception of arrest risk, either by increasing their presence and visibility or through arresting offenders. But, until recently, there was a lack of evidence to prove this theory actually worked. This study, published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, is one of the first to show evidence that a criminal justice intervention did in fact have an impact on perceptions of arrest risk, and that subjective perceptions are in fact correlated with objective levels of punishment. It exploits a hot spots policing intervention, Operation Safe Streets, which occurred during collection of the Pathways to Desistance Study, a longitudinal study of adolescents who had previously come into contact with the police. Researchers examined 700 interviews with young people before, during and after Safe Streets, which targeted specific high-crime problem areas in Philadelphia with a geographically targeted police crackdown. The effect of the intervention was tested using first-difference models of perceptions of arrest risk within-person over time. The study found Safe Streets likely did increase perceptions of arrest risk in the sample, and in fact, reversed the existing downward trend in these perceptions. Ultimately the study suggests hotspot policing might reduce crime by changes in perceptions of arrest risk and gives hope that policy solutions to deter crime may be more effective than previously thought.

The foundations of defiance: examining the psychological underpinnings of ethnic minority defiance toward police by Elise Sargeant, Kristina Murphy and Ben Bradford

Public defiance of police authority makes police work difficult. But refusing to engage or cooperate with the police can be a powerful mechanism of protest in response to police oppression and unfair treatment. Defiance expressed toward police authority signals dissatisfaction with the way police wield power, indicating that police legitimacy may be declining, and that change is needed. This study, published in Policing and Society, seeks to understand the factors that drive defiance toward police within two ethnic minority communities in Australia. It draws on survey data collected from 793 Vietnamese and Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants living in Sydney to test a new theoretical model. This model examines whether identity threats from police – elicited by signs of procedural injustice – could explain why some minority group members choose to question the legitimacy of police and openly defy police authority. The results show procedural injustice from police can threaten the sense of self worth and dignity of ethnic minority individuals, and thus their sense of identity, while perceived procedural justice can reduce identity threats. It found procedural injustice led to decreased legitimacy and greater defiance, or disengagement from the system. Interestingly it also found those who viewed police as more legitimate were actually more inclined to adopt a resistant posture toward police, which the researchers suggested was explained by a willingness to challenge what one sees as unacceptable police behaviour because of their overall faith in the legitimacy of the system holding them to account.

Public perceptions of police officers who wear pins or patches on their uniform by Craig Bennell, Rylan Simpson, Lélia Makeen-Brazé, Remmy Ackert-Fraser, Liana Lanzo and Noah Bennell

The display of pins and patches by police officers has generated much discussion among the police, media and the public. Criticisms of these pins and patches often stem from concerns about the public’s perception of what they symbolise, particularly when worn by police. This Canadian study, published in Police Practice and Research, sought to test whether, depending upon the cause and its public perception, the pin or patch could change how the public perceives the officer. A representative group of 524 individuals were presented with eight images of the same officer, a control with no badge and the rest wearing one of seven pins, and asked to rate how approachable, calm, competent etc he appeared. The badges were Black Lives Matter patch, a Thin Blue Line patch, a Breast Cancer Awareness pin, a Fallen Officer pin, a Poppy, a Gay Pride patch, and a Punisher patch. The researchers found the officer was rated more positively when wearing the Breast Cancer Awareness pin, the Poppy or the Gay Pride patch. In contrast, the officer was rated more negatively across the items when wearing the Black Lives Matter patch or Punisher patch relative to when wearing no pin or patch. They observed no differences in perceptions of the officer when wearing the Fallen Officer pin or the Thin Blue Line patch. The researchers suggested people likely associate the Gay Pride patch with qualities like acceptance and inclusivity, which may make officers who wear this patch seem particularly approachable and kind. Whereas, the Black Lives Matter patch and the Punisher patch may be seen as divisive, and the officers wearing them seem less likely to treat every citizen the same. The study is the first of its kind and researchers suggested it would lead policy makers to better make evidence-based decisions on uniform.

Principles for accountable policing by Genevieve Lennon and Nicholas R. Fyfe with John McNeill and Fraser Sampson

The extent to which police powers impact on the lives, liberties and livelihoods of the communities in which policing takes place makes police accountability more fundamental than some performance measures or governance processes used for other public bodies. This document, published by the Police Foundation, is intended to provide a practical baseline which will inform the practice and structure of accountable policing. The twelve principles are:

Principle 1: Universality, Principle 2: Independence, Principle 3: Compellability, Principle 4: Enforceability and redress, Principle 5: Legality Principle, 6: Constructiveness, Principle 7: Clarity, Principle 8: Transparency, Principle 9: Pluralism and multi-level participation, Principle 10: ‘Recognition’ and ‘reason’, Principle 11: Commit to robust evidence and independent evaluation, Principle 12: Be a learning organisation.

These evolved from a series of workshops held in Glasgow in 2016. Supported by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, these workshops brought together leading policing experts from the police, police accountability bodies and academia. Participants from the police and accountability bodies were selected from across Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and a range of oversight bodies. The principles for accountable policing are intended to provide a framework for assessing the degree to which police forces and oversight bodies in different jurisdictions meet accountability standards. The principles have been drafted primarily with public bodies in mind but apply to all forms of policing.


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