Police less proactive after negative public scrutiny, study says

August 19, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas -- Public safety officers know that their profession could draw them into the line of fire at any moment, as it did recently for six officers wounded in a shooting standoff in Philadelphia.

Yet, in an age when cellphone videos of police misconduct can go viral, the new social phenomenon of "cop shaming" is causing performance problems in police departments nationwide.

According to new research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, public safety officers' proactivity declines when they perceive negative public scrutiny, even if they are deeply motivated to help people.

The study, " 'I Want to Serve but the Public Does Not Understand:' Prosocial Motivation, Image Discrepancies, and Proactivity in Public Safety," by McCombs Assistant Professor of Management Shefali V. Patil and R. David Lebel from the University of Pittsburgh, found that officers are less likely to proactively build relationships with community members and help solve their problems if they feel that the public does not understand the difficulties of their jobs.

"In the vast majority of jobs, it is really difficult for other people outside to understand your job, but people don't realize how much this misunderstanding can actually influence the behavior of police officers," Patil said.

The researchers asked 183 police officers across six agencies and 238 firefighters across eight stations in the southern United States about whether they believed the public understood the difficulties of their jobs. The researchers also surveyed the officers' supervisors about their proactivity.

The police officers and firefighters who said the public did not understand their jobs were significantly less likely to be rated as proactive by their supervisors, even if their reason for doing their jobs is to help others.

"When proactive officers see something that's happening in a local neighborhood, they get out of the patrol car and go to help somebody even though they don't need to and nobody's actually watching them," Patil said. "But being less proactive would mean taking a less active role while on a shift and basically only doing what your boss tells you."

Patil said that figuring out how to improve public perception is key to healing this rift. Officers who feel that the public respects and appreciates the difficulties and dangers of their profession are much more motivated to interact in positive ways with the people they serve.

"Our research is trying to show how important it is for us to take the next step to try to figure out how we can actually change the public image of law enforcement officers," she said. "It's also helping police officers believe that the public truly cares, and it's just not lip service."
-end-
To view a video about this research, click here.

To read a McCombs Big Ideas feature about this research, click here.

University of Texas at Austin

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science 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.