Evaluating the relative impact of positive and negative encounters with police: a randomized experiment
Examines the influence of positive, negative, and neutral police behavior during traffic stops on citizen perceptions of police.
Participants were randomly assigned to view a video clip of a simulated traffic stop in which the officer communicates with the driver in a positive (procedurally just), negative (procedurally unjust), or neutral manner. After viewing the video, participants completed a survey about their perceptions of police, including their level of trust in police, obligation to obey police orders, and willingness to cooperate with police.
Observing positive interactions with police enhanced people’s self-reported willingness to cooperate with police, obligation to obey police and the law, and trust and confidence in police, whereas observing negative interactions undermined these outcomes. The effects of these interactions were much stronger for encounter-specific outcomes than for more general outcomes.
The results from this randomized experiment confirm that procedural justice can enhance people’s prosocial attitudes toward police, whereas procedural injustice can undermine these attitudes. While positive (procedurally just) interactions tend to have weaker effects than negative (procedurally unjust) interactions, this study finds little support for the notion that only negative experiences shape people’s views about the police.