Date of Degree
Terror Management Theory
Over the past several decades, high-profile police shootings, police brutality, and police misconduct have contributed to a decreased trust in policing in the United States. Beyond the severity and abuse of power, many of these incidents have also revealed that officers have covered up these incidents from the public. The refusal of police officers to both report misconduct or cover it up is well established and known as the “blue wall of silence.” However, no previous studies have examined the psychological processes behind this failure to report fellow officer misconduct. Two psychological theories that may explain this failure are Terror Management Theory (TMT), specifically mortality salience, and Social Identity Theory. Mortality salience suggests that reminders of one’s death increases the likelihood of protecting in-group members. Social Identity Theory has also established that increased group identification decreases the likelihood of punishing fellow in-group members. Current police training emphasizes the allegedly dangerous nature of the job while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of protecting fellow officers’ lives. The current set of studies manipulated mortality salience and social identity to identify the role each may play in the likelihood of police reporting fellow officer misconduct. As it is unclear the role that police training and culture may have on reporting fellow officer misconduct, identifying how students interested in a career in law enforcement are impacted by mortality salience and social identity on the likelihood of reporting misconduct provides opportunities to implement evidence-based policy reforms focused on increasing the likelihood of police reporting misconduct.
Through two studies, this research explored the influence that morality salience and social identity had on the likelihood that police officers and students would report misconduct. Study 1 manipulated mortality salience and social identity and assessed the likelihood that police officers would report fellow officer misconduct. Contrary to previous research, police officers overwhelmingly stated they would report fellow officer misconduct. However, the results revealed an effect of the guardian mindset of policing on predicting the likelihood of police reporting misconduct. Surprisingly, officers also rated themselves as significantly more likely than other officers to report the misconduct. Study 2 tested whether students interested in a career in law enforcement failed to report fellow student misconduct because of mortality salience or social identity. Results from Study 2 found that students stated they would not report the misconduct, regardless of the attempted manipulations of both mortality salience and social identity. The results of the two studies did not find the predicted effects of mortality salience and social identity on the likelihood of reporting misconduct. However, it did raise further questions about the role of police training in reporting misconduct and the disconnect between the findings of officers’ ratings of the likelihood of reporting and the numerous real-world examples of police failing to report misconduct. I discuss implications of these findings and future directions for research.
Stenkamp, Anna M., "The Role of Mortality Salience and Social Identity in Police Officers and Students Reporting Misconduct" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.