This week’s “Thankful Thursday” would like the highlight the results of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org) to test the effects of people’s opinions towards community-oriented policing. Researchers of the study in partnership with the New Haven Police Department found that a single, positive, non-enforcement-related encounter enhanced the legitimacy of the police officers and increased people’s willingness to cooperate with the police. Friendly visits by local police officers showed substantial improvement in people’s attitudes and were effective across racial and ethnic groups.There was also an increase of trust towards law enforcement as well. The long-term positive effects were strongest among non-white residents and for people who held negative views of the police prior to the intervention.
“Policy makers promote community-oriented policing as a means to build trust between police officers and the communities they serve, but there has been little evidence on whether the non-enforcement interactions at the heart of community policing actually cause people to view the police differently. We found that a single, positive non-enforcement interaction with a police officer improved residents’ attitudes toward police, including perceived legitimacy and willingness to cooperate.” said Kyle Peyton, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University and lead author of the study. The study was also co-authored by David G. Rand, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michael Sierra-Arévalo, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.
Researchers mailed surveys to New Haven residents with questions about policing along with queries about city government, local and national politics. 2,013 individuals responded to the survey in 1,852 households. 926 households (1,007 individuals) were assigned to a treatment group, which received the community-policing visits. Assigned to a control group were 926 households (1,006 individuals), who did not receive visits from the police. Of the treatment group, 412 people engaged with police officers during an announced visit to their homes in which the officers introduced themselves, solicited feedback, and provided personalized business cards with their work cell-phone number. Following the visits, all 2,013 people who participated in the original survey were invited via email to participate in two follow-up surveys that occurred 3 and 21 days after the visits.
The survey measured people’s attitudes in four categories: legitimacy, perceived effectiveness, cooperation, and compliance. According to the results of both follow-up surveys, the positive effects of the police visits were evident across all four categories. The strongest effects were in the categories of legitimacy and perceptions of police effectiveness. The encounters reduced negative beliefs about police and increased support to hire more patrol officers through a 10% funding increase to the police department.
“We’re grateful to the New Haven Police Department for partnering with us to conduct this study. We hope these findings prove useful to police departments across the country as they consider adopting community-oriented approaches like the ones in New Haven to build trust, particularly in communities where police-community relations have been damaged by longstanding conflict and distrust,” said Peyton.
“It would be a mistake to interpret our study as having found some magic solution to distrust in police that is often rooted in a history of mistreatment. Positive, respectful police-community interaction should be the norm in all police departments; but community policing isn’t going to solve police brutality or a lack of police accountability. Those problems demand their own attention and their own solutions,” said Assistant Professor Sierra-Arévalo.
In response to the nationwide unrest, the Obama administration established the President’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing to study ways to improve police-community relations throughout the country. In its May 2015 final report, the committee emphasized the need to adopt community-oriented policing — a law-enforcement strategy that focuses on positive, non-punitive, and non-enforcement contact with the public as a means to build trust and promote safety.