Police officers' views before and after Ferguson counter accuracy of Ferguson effect

March 31, 2020

The Ferguson Effect is the idea that increased public criticism and distrust of police following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, lowered police moral, which caused officers to withdraw from proactive policing and boosted the crime rate in major U.S. cities. A new longitudinal study examined whether this effect was real. The study, of law enforcement officers before and after Ferguson, found little support for the concept, though it did identify a reduction in officers' job satisfaction and an increase in their cynicism.

The study, by researchers at the University of South Florida, appears in Criminology & Public Policy, a publication of the American Society of Criminology.

"Post-Ferguson protests in 2014 did not appreciably worsen police morale, nor did they lead to substantial withdrawal from most police work," notes Chris Marier, a Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida, who led the study. "This suggests that the institution of policing is resilient to external shocks and that criticism of police is not detrimental to policing or public safety."

To examine the veracity of the Ferguson Effect, researchers examined whether widespread criticism of and protests against police following the police-related deaths of Brown and other Black men in late 2014 and early 2015 reduced police morale and led to de-policing (a slowdown of or withdrawal from proactive work, in which police perform their duties but reduce their productivity and efficiency). The researchers also examined whether low morale among police officers was associated with de-policing.

The study examined 18,413 surveys of law enforcement officers in 87 police departments across the United States before and after Brown was shot in Ferguson, a nationally representative sample. Morale was measured by survey items reflecting job satisfaction, burnout, and cynicism. De-policing was measured as a reduction in foot patrols, attendance at community meetings, and the number of citations issued.

The researchers found that after Ferguson, officers were significantly less satisfied with their jobs and more burned out than they were before Ferguson, but the before and after differences were negligible in size. The study also found statistically significant differences between officers' responses before and after Ferguson on several measures of cynicism, but two of the five measures showed improved rather than worsened attitudes, and the magnitude of change was insubstantial.

In addition, while officers surveyed after Ferguson issued fewer citations and conducted fewer foot patrols, the changes were very small in magnitude, suggesting that commitment to proactive community policing remained largely unchanged.

The authors suggest that because low job satisfaction was associated with fewer citations, and cynicism was associated negatively with both the number of citations issued and the rate of attendance at community meetings, police departments need to address officers' attitudes in order to promote proactive policing and community engagement. In fact, they suggest that officers' cynicism, which was high before and after Ferguson, may be an enduring cultural element that merits further attention at any time of stress.

"Although we didn't find strong evidence of de-policing following Ferguson, our results indicate that low morale is associated with reduced police activity by officers," says Lorie Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, who coauthored the study. "Police administrators must address officers' cynicism and distrust regardless of current public sentiment. The implications of our findings extend beyond the Ferguson Effect to a more general understanding of police culture."

The study's authors note a few limitations: First, officers who were most affected by post-Ferguson protests may have been those least likely to respond to the survey, which may mean that the study's results underestimate changes in morale and police activity over time. But officers who felt most aggrieved may have been more likely to respond, which may overestimate changes. And some officers may have provided responses they thought were socially desirable, avoiding responses that appeared unprofessional or unappealing.
-end-
The research was supported by the National Institute of Justice.

Crime and Justice Research Alliance

Related Job Satisfaction Articles from Brightsurf:

Job interest not a big predictor of job satisfaction
Interest in an occupation matters, but not as much as you might think when it comes to job satisfaction.

Researchers take a stand on algorithm design for job centers: Landing a job isn't always the right goal
Algorithms that assess the risk of citizens becoming unemployed are currently being tested in a number of Danish municipalities.

Coronavirus volunteers: Greater satisfaction thanks to online platforms
Shortly after the lockdown began, a huge number of volunteers signed up to help people in coronavirus risk groups - primarily via online platforms.

Improved work environments enhance patient and nurse satisfaction
Healthcare provider burnout is a mounting public health crisis with up to half of all physicians and one in three nurses reporting high burnout, data show.

Hospitality, not medical care, drives patient satisfaction
Patients' ratings of hospitals and willingness to recommend them have almost no correlation to the quality of medical care provided or to patient survival rates, according to new Cornell University research.

Practice characteristics and job satisfaction among GPs in 11 countries
Organizational and functional features of general practitioner practices in 11 countries were studied in search of underlying reasons for job dissatisfaction.

Individuals with obesity get more satisfaction from their food
A new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found no significant difference in taste perceptions between participants of normal weight and those who were overweight.

An hour or two of outdoor learning every week increases teachers' job satisfaction
A Swansea University study has revealed how as little as an hour a week of outdoor learning has tremendous benefits for children and also boosts teachers' job satisfaction.

Feeling valued, respected appear most important for job satisfaction in academic medicine
A survey of physicians in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Medicine finds that feeling valued, being treated with respect and working in a supportive environment were the factors most strongly associated with job satisfaction.

Sexual satisfaction among older people about more than just health
Sexual satisfaction among older people about more than just health.

Read More: Job Satisfaction News and Job Satisfaction Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.