Community policing and the public’s attitudes toward police – David Rand, Kyle Peyton, and Michael Sierra-Arévalo

David Rand, Associate Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT Sloan School of Management

From Psychology Today

We are in the midst of a crisis of police legitimacy in America. Each case of police brutality and shooting of an unarmed civilian causes more people to lose trust in the police and to question whether officers are really there to serve and protect. Without public trust, how can the police effectively do their job?

In response to this crisis, some police officials and policymakers have promoted the use community-oriented policing (COP), which emphasizes positive, nonenforcement contact with the public to build trust and police legitimacy. COP dates back to the 1970s, and has involved things like foot patrols, community meetings, neighborhood watches, and door-to-door visits. The idea is simple: If interactions with the police don’t always involve a problem—much less punishment of some kind—then the public may come to trust police and, hopefully, cooperate with them in the future to report and solve crimes.

Despite massive investments in COP over the past several decades, this strategy suffers from a key problem: There isn’t strong evidence that it actually works. This is because existing studies have largely been correlational. For example, some studies compared departments that use COP to those that don’t – and these departments clearly differ in more ways than just their use of COP. Furthermore, there is little consistency in how departments actually implement COP, making comparisons all the more difficult. Given the popularity of COP and the millions of dollars spent on COP initiatives across the U.S., it is vital to confirm if positive COP interactions move the needle on trust and legitimacy.

Read the full post at Psychology Today.

David Rand is the Erwin H. Schell Professor and an Associate Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

Kyle Peyton is a PhD candidate at Yale University. 

Michael Sierra-Arévalo is an Assistant Professor in the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice. They are coauthors of “A field experiment on community policing and police legitimacy,” which was published by PNAS.

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