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How Do Police Behaviors Affect Public Opinion And Why Should That Matter?

Many would say that public opinion is in the eye of the beholder.  In most cases it is, as some might believe that the perception of how the police behave when they make contact with a citizen is largely a subjective account of how that particular citizen felt that particular day, towards that particular officer, during that particular contact.  Others perceive that the police behave poorly on almost all occasions, especially whenever a minority is involved, particularly an African-American individual.  Skogen (2006) identifies this perception as the “collective insecurity” of African-Americans, positing that the statistical effect of dissatisfaction by race disappears when controlling for perceived levels of crime and disorder.

Numerous studies have been conducted examining public opinion against the attitudes and behavior of the police.  According to Skogen (2006), all research on American’s views of the police begins with race.  As with most studies, some find overwhelming evidence that the police are disproportionately stopping, questioning, mistreating and arresting young, poor, minority males.  Other studies provide mixed results, especially when comparing the socioeconomic status of the person contacted to satisfaction.  Skogen (2006) asserts that many middle-class African-Americans are more attuned to racial discrimination believing it to be an abstract concept that impedes their class-based aspirations. Brown and Benedict (2002) assert that confidence in the police is higher for higher status whites, yet lower for higher status African-Americans.

The concept that seems to surface and resonate in all the studies is that people who are contacted by the police are by and large dissatisfied with the attitude and behavior of the police, whether it be a citizen requested contact or a police-initiated contact.  Why are the police viewed so unfavorably in so many instances?  Are the police really behaving badly in the majority of their contacts with citizens or have we come to expect too much from fellow human beings who we as a society have forced onto a pedestal of higher expectations that simply cannot be met in some instances?  To me, they are important questions to answer.  Police derive their legitimacy by striving to be just that; being those in society who do rise a level above the rest, to instill confidence in society that the police are competent and efficient in protecting the public and that they can do so without the suggestion that they lack procedural fairness, are discriminatory, intimidating, brutal and lacking responsiveness to the concerns of those they are sworn to protect.

What doesn’t help is the current media trend of spinning half-truths based in one-sided conjecture and negative innuendo, designed to sensationalize a story, and further erode the legitimacy and confidence that the public has for the police. Sadly, it has become more popular to vilify the police and aggrandize the perpetrator.  The result of this phenomenon is the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which causes many honest, virtuous, incorruptible officers to flee the perlustration and constant media assault of public service, to take a less provocative career path .

It boils down to the theoretical frameworks mentioned by Van Craen (2012).  In order to maintain legitimacy and solidify a basis for people to build their level of confidence and trust in the police, they must embrace and employ the concepts of Social Capital Theory, Performance Theory and Procedural Justice.  Proactively and aggressively pursuing criminal activity through evidence-based and focused patrol is only part of the larger puzzle.  For policing to be successful there must be a fair and accurate portrayal of law enforcement by the media, as well as, the added components of making connections with citizens through civic engagement, building confidence by meeting citizen’s expectations by maintaining accountability by meeting performance expectations and through the consistent, fair treatment, of everyone, and through respect and responsiveness to the concerns and priorities of citizens.

 

References

Brown, B., & Benedict, W. (2002). Perceptions of the police: Past findings, methodological issues, conceptual issues and policy implications. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 25(3), 543-580.

Skogen, W.G., (2006). Asymmetry in the Impact of Encounters with Police. Policing and Society, 16(2), 99-126.

Van Craen, M. (2012). Determinants of Ethnic Minority Confidence in the Police. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 38 (7), 1029-1047.

 

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The Question of Reintegration

In today’s depressed economic environment more and more lawmakers are searching for creative ways to reduce government budgets, yet still provide the vital services that are necessary to maintain life and safety within our communities.  With incarceration rates growing to over ten times what they were between 1972 and 2008, what has become blatantly obvious, is that we as a society are spending an incredible amount of resources on incarceration and care of prisoners; resources that if used more wisely could not only result in reducing prison population, but could help to reintegrate those released as productive members of society.  Obviously, this option cannot work in all instances, and can only be reserved for the less serious, non-violent offenses.  As such, diversion, reintegration and restorative justice strategies could prove to be an effective means to help gang members establish productive bonds within their communities.

The notion behind the tough-on-crime stance that was so pervasive over the last couple of decades was to lock offenders up and throw away the key.  Any deviation from that thought process and one was considered to be too liberal and lacking of fortitude to treat criminals as criminals.  However, as this generation of mass incarceration trundled along, the residual effect was profound in the disparity in which it impacted the African-American community.  Disproportionate incarceration, poor neighborhoods and debilitating unemployment proved to be the civil rights trifecta to impact an already persecuted segment of society. Studies have shown that isolated programs such as hot spot crackdowns, recreation programs, or classroom anti-gang instruction sessions are temporary at best and not sufficient in the long term (Linden, 2010).

It is important to understand that only a comprehensive approach to reintegration and restorative justice will truly have a lasting impact on reducing gang crime and recidivism. Gang crime has many different causes and facilitators therefore; the solutions to the problem must also be multi-faceted and involve a combination of prevention, intervention, and suppression programs (Linden, 2010).  Eliminating just one piece of this combined gang crime reduction strategy will jeopardize the success of the remaining pieces, and of the strategy as a whole.  Combined program strategies have the greatest potential to provide lasting reductions in gang crime and hold the greatest potential for reintegrating members into their communities. In this essential mix, suppression in the form of hot spot patrols and aggressive enforcement can reduce existing street gang crime, while prevention programs such as G.R.E.A.T., reduce the number of potential gang recruits.  As the final piece, intervention strategies help gang members to exit gangs and to avoid gangs after being released from prison (Linden, 2010).  An effective, well-planned and uncomplicated comprehensive reduction program can make the difference between a resounding success and miserable failure.

Repeated studies have indicated that incarceration, whether the offender is youthful or an adult, many times leads to recidivism and re-incarceration.  Prisons and correctional facilities become the training grounds in which gang members can hone their skills by networking with more hardened, seasoned criminals.  Once paroled, these at-risk individuals are socially ostracized, and succumb easily to substance abuse, depression and violence resulting from overwhelming despair and an inability to imagine the future (Koffman et al., 2009).  Reintegration strategies, as evidence suggests, helps to reduce the mental trauma and provide the necessary intervention to allow individuals to take control of their lives and chart out their path for the future.  Coping strategies can dramatically increase resilience and help to reduce anti-social behaviors.  Empowerment through training in social and cognitive behavioral strategies, attention focusing, social skills learning and personal guidance have all proven to improve outcomes (Koffman et al., 2009).

The significance of developing programs that act as correctional interventions, that address the needs of gang members, particularly as it relates to the development of prosocial support networks, is a particularly poignant subject (Huebner, Varano, & Bynum, 2007). Without complete commitment and community support, programs such as these fail due to lack of funding and the unavailability of resources needed to keep the programs operational.

Truly effective reintegration programs should be coupled with community-wide interventions designed to improve neighborhood economies, encourage maintenance of treatment services and develop prosocial support networks (Huebner et al., 2007).

The important aspect of any reintegration, suppression or restorative justice program is the ability to address the needs of individuals on an ongoing basis as they transition from their prison community and re-enter society.  Being able to identify and address behavioral and high-risk behaviors before they reach the tipping point is even better.  However, until we as a society are willing to invest ourselves to understanding that the road to effective deterrence and offending desistance is a long-term proposition, we will continue provide shallow programs and hollow promises.

 

 

 

References

Huebner, B. M., Varano, S. P., & Bynum, T. S. (2007, April, 27). Gangs, guns, and drugs: recidivism among serious, young offenders. American Society of Criminology, 6(2), 187-222.

Koffman, S., Ray, A., Berg, S., Covington, L., Albarran, N. M., & Vasquez, M. (2009). Impact of a comprehensive whole child intervention and prevention program among youths at risk of gang involvement and other forms of delinquency. National Association of Social Workers, 239-245.

Linden, R. (2010). Comprehensive approaches to address street gangs in Canada [Policy Brief 014]. Manitoba, Canada: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.

 

 

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  • Users are permitted to read the website and the Information and make copies for their own personal use, for example by printing or storing it. All other use of the website or the information, for example the storage or reproduction of (a part of) the website of Chief Concerns in any external internet site or the creation of links, hypertext links or deeplinks between the website of Chief Concerns and any other internet site, is prohibited without the express written consent of Chief Jody O’Guinn, Carbondale, IL.