Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Criminal Justice

Advisor

Maria (Maki) Haberfeld

Committee Members

Peter Mameli

Brian A. Lawton

Hal Campbell

Subject Categories

Criminology | Inequality and Stratification | Other Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Other Sociology | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Public Policy | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Race and Ethnicity

Keywords

Ferguson Effect, police perception, Role Theory, police discretion, intersectionality

Abstract

Researchers suggest that as public scrutiny and video recording of violent/tumultuous police encounters increase, police would back away from proactive enforcement, resulting in an increase in crime—the Ferguson Effect. Recent scholarship refined these concerns over police disengagement with the study of de-policing, while other scholars explored police self-legitimacy, in order to explain law enforcement behavior, given the immediacy and ubiquity of social media and digital communication. This study surveyed 792 law enforcement officers from 10 different police agencies in the United States, to ascertain if police officers’ personal and contextual characteristics influence their decision to either take enforcement action (i.e., summons or arrest) or extend discretion (i.e., let them go) to the people they interact with during minor offenses. Respondents were presented with six vignettes, which included cars stops, public demonstrations, and street fights. The first three scenarios established a behavioral baseline for law enforcement action, while the next three scenarios had the added variable of presenting challenges to the officer’s authority: cell phone recording, verbal challenge, or a passive challenge (e.g., jotting down name, badge number, etcetera). Respondents were provided open fields in the survey to explain their enforcement decisions. Logistic regression testing found significance between challenging law enforcement and the resulting enforcement decision. The presence of cell phones recording police-public interactions will often not end in enforcement. Verbal and passive challenges however, will result in the officer taking enforcement action. When police are dealing with members of minority communities they are likely to extend discretion 65% of the time. Enforcement action taken for teenage offenders is about 49%. Testing for intersectionality demonstrated significant relationships for race and gender, that would not be readily discernable with traditional variable designations. This study concludes with a policy recommendation based on the New York City Police Department’s recruitment strategies to address one of the primary concerns in policing—effective recruitment policy to create tomorrows equitable and inclusive police departments.

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