A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 3

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

@#%$!: The Impact of Officer Profanity on Civilians’ Perception of What Constitutes Reasonable Use of Force, by M. Hunter Martaindale, William L. Sandel, Aaron Duron, J. Pete Blair

Americans’ confidence in police is at an all-time low with less than half of the population expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. Coupled with this is a trend, growing since the 1970s, for members of the public to perceive legal use of force as unacceptable. In order to better understand what influences these views, researchers from the University of Texas set out to examine the impact that profanity has on people’s perceptions of police use of force. The researchers found while bad language is often used by police officers to establish control and authority over uncooperative suspects, the evidence suggests the public find it harms the credibility of the officer. In the study, two dashcam use of force videos, one relating to a domestic abuse call and the other to a traffic stop, were stripped of audio and then transcribed in either polite or profane versions. Police used force in both, but while in the traffic stop empty handed control was used, in the domestic abuse video the suspect was kicked and hit during the arrest. These were played to a sample of 234 participants. In the polite versions the use of force in the traffic stop was seen as more reasonable than the domestic violence video. However, the researchers found that in both videos, the force was seen as substantially less reasonable when bad language was present, compared to when officers were polite. Moreover in the profane version, both uses of force were seen as equally unreasonable, meaning the level of profanity "swamped the contextual differences between the two". The findings were consistent with procedural justice theory in which officers are expected to treat people with dignity and respect. Profanity is seen as disrespectful, and this carries over into assessments of the reasonableness of force. Writing in Police Quarterly, the researchers suggest police forces should dissuade officers form using profanity in order to improve confidence.

What happens when the police go on strike? Homicides increase. Evidence from Ceará, Brazil, by Alberto Azian

Researchers took advantage of a natural experiment to discover what happens when the police go on strike. This study, published in Global Crime compared homicide rates in the Brazilian state of Ceará with forecasted rates had the strike not gone ahead. Separate SARIMA and Exponential Smoothing models fitted on data on weekly homicide counts from January 2015 to the beginning of the strike were used to generate forecasts of homicides in a virtual counterfactual scenario with no police strikes. Actual homicide counts and forecasts were then compared. The analysis revealed the strike led to a statistically significant increase in homicides ranging between 110 and 250 per cent. A difference-in-differences analysis confirms this result. The results show even in a violent context, the perception of a higher risk of apprehension induced by police presence acts as a powerful deterrent against homicides.

Victim Satisfaction: Reversing the Decline, by Detective Superintendent Jim McKee

There have been significant declines in trust, confidence and satisfaction in the Metropolitan Police over the past year, according to the latest analysis from MOPAC. For example, the MOPAC User Satisfaction Survey (USS), which asks victims about their experience of reporting a single crime, showed a significant decline in overall satisfaction from 71 percent in Q1 20-21 to 66 percent in Q4 21-22. The MPS Telephone and Digital Investigation Unit (TDIU) surveys,which asks victims about their experience of reporting crime over the phone or online, saw similar reductions. This causes tangible impacts on how Londoners engage with police and reduces their legitimacy and effectiveness. However a recent randomised controlled trial, led by Detective Superintendent Jim McKee of the Metropolitan Police, shows a simple, procedurally just intervention can boost victim satisfaction. Using vehicle crime as a case study, the trial identified 6,992 victims of theft from or theft of motor vehicle, who had either reported their crime by telephone or online. Between 1 September and 30 November 2021, those in the treatment group received a reassurance call and a victim letter, while the control group received just a letter. The outcomes were measured by MOPAC's surveys and independent analysis. Overall, 62 percent of those in the treatment group reported themselves as satisfied compared to 40 percent of the control group - this was an increase of 55 percent. Particularly significant improvements were found among those who reported online, who are generally those least satisfied with the service they receive. In this group there was an increase from 26 to 78 percent of those surveyed saying they were satisfied with the service they received. There were also important, though less dramatic, increases for those who reported by telephone, from 47 to 59 percent. The effect of the intervention was particularly noticeable among Black and minority ethnic victims, who are generally least satisfied with the police; with a 33 percentage point increase compared to a 17 point increase for white victims. There were also bigger increases for younger age groups and females. The trial shows treating victims in a procedurally just manner through carrying out reassurance calls works to increase satisfaction and thus support police legitimacy. The findings of the study will be presented in full by Det Supt Jim McKee at the inaugural Conference of the Global Collaboration of Evidence Based Policing in October.

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