Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 367–391 | Cite as

Evaluating the relative impact of positive and negative encounters with police: a randomized experiment

  • Edward R. Maguire
  • Belén V. Lowrey
  • Devon Johnson



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.


Procedural justice Police Experiment Asymmetry Traffic stops 


  1. Asparouhov, T., & Bengt, M. (2010). Bayesian analysis of latent variable models using Mplus (version 4). Retrieved from
  2. Augustyn, M. B. (2016). Updating perceptions of (in)justice. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 53, 255–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bagozzi, R. P., & Yi, Y. (1989). On the use of structural equation models in experimental designs. Journal of Marketing Research, 26, 271–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barkworth, J. M., & Murphy, K. (2015). Procedural justice policing and citizen compliance behaviour: the importance of emotion. Psychology, Crime & Law, 21, 254–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beijersbergen, K. A., Dirkzwager, A. J. E., Eichelsheim, V. I., Van der Laan, P. H., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2015). Procedural justice, anger, and prisoners’ misconduct. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42, 196–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bradford, B., Jonathan, J., & Stanko, E. (2009). Contact and confidence: revisiting the impact of public encounters with the police. Policing and Society, 19, 20–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brandl, S., Frank, J., Worden, R., & Bynum, T. (1994). Global and specific attitudes toward the police: disentangling the relationship. Justice Quarterly, 11, 119–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In B. A. Kenneth & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 136–162). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. DiStefano, C., & Morgan, G. B. (2014). A comparison of diagonal weighted least squares robust estimation techniques for ordinal data. Structural Equation Modeling, 21, 425–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Engel, R. S. (2005). Citizens’ perceptions of distributive and procedural injustice during traffic stops with police. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 42, 445–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Epp, C. R., Maynard-Moody, S., & Haider-Markel, D. P. (2014). Pulled over: how police stops define race and citizenship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Flora, D. B., & Curran, P. J. (2004). An empirical evaluation of alternative methods of estimation for confirmatory factor analysis with ordinal data. Psychological Methods, 9, 466–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frank, J., Smith, B., & Novak, K. (2005). The basis of citizens’ attitudes toward the police. Police Quarterly, 8, 206–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gallagher, C., Maguire, E. R., Mastrofski, S. D., & Reisig, M. (2001). The public image of the police. Alexandria: International Association of Chiefs of Police.Google Scholar
  17. Gau, J. (2014). Procedural justice and police legitimacy: a test of measurement and structure. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 187–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gau, J., & Brunson, R. (2010). Procedural justice and order maintenance policing: a study of inner-city young men’s perceptions of police legitimacy. Justice Quarterly, 27, 255–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gau, J. M., Corsaro, N., Stewart, E., & Brunson, R. K. (2012). Examining macro-level impacts on procedural justice and police legitimacy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gelman, A., Fagan, J., & Kiss, A. (2007). An analysis of the New York City Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy in the context of claims of racial bias. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 102, 813–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hancock, G. R. (2004). Experimental, quasi-experimental, and nonexperimental design and analysis with latent variables. In D. Kaplan (Ed.), The SAGE handbook of quantitative methodology for the social sciences. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  22. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indices in covariance structure analysis: conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hunton, J. E., & Beeler, J. D. (1997). Effects of user participation in systems development: a longitudinal field experiment. MIS Quarterly, 21, 359–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hurst, Y. G., & Frank, J. (2000). How kids view cops: the nature of juvenile attitudes toward the police. Journal of Criminal Justice, 28, 189–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jesilow, P., Meyer, J., & Namazzi, N. (1995). Public attitudes toward the police. American Journal of Police, 14, 67–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson, D., Maguire, E. R., & Kuhns, J. B. (2014). Public perceptions of the legitimacy of the law and legal authorities: evidence from the Caribbean. Law and Society Review, 48, 947–978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Liang, X., & Yang, Y. (2014). An evaluation of WLSMV and Bayesian methods for confirmatory factor analysis with categorical indicators. International Journal of Quantitative Research in Education, 2, 17–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lind, E. A., & Tyler, T. R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lowrey, B. V., Maguire, E. R., & Bennett, R. R. (2016). Testing the effects of procedural justice and overaccommodation in traffic stops: a randomized experiment. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 1430–1449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. MacQueen, S., & Bradford, B. (2015). Enhancing public trust and police legitimacy during road traffic encounters: results from a randomised controlled trial in Scotland. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 11, 419–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maguire, E. R., & Johnson, D. (2010). Measuring public perceptions of the police. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 33, 703–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Manning, P. K. (1996). Information technology in the police context: the “sailor” phone. Information Systems Research, 7, 52–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Bennett, S., & Tyler, T. R. (2013). Shaping citizen perceptions of police legitimacy: a randomized field trial of procedural justice. Criminology, 51, 33–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Antrobus, E., & Eggins, E. (2012). Procedural justice, routine encounters and citizen perceptions of police: main findings from the Queensland Community Engagement Trial (QCET). Journal of Experimental Criminology, 8, 343–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McDonald, R. P. (1999). Test theory: A unified treatment. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Murphy, K. (2005). Regulating more effectively: the relationship between procedural justice, legitimacy, and tax non-compliance. Journal of Law and Society, 32, 562–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Murphy, K., Mazerolle, L., & Bennett, S. (2014). Promoting trust in police: findings from a randomized experimental field trial of procedural justice policing. Policing and Society, 24, 405–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Muthén, B. (2010). Bayesian analysis in Mplus: A brief introduction. (
  39. Muthén, B., et al. (1997). Robust inference using weighted-least squares and quadratic estimating equations in latent variable modeling with categorical and continuous outcomes. Unpublished paper [available at].
  40. Myhill, A., & Bradford, B. (2012). Can police enhance public confidence by improving quality of service? Results from two surveys in England and Wales. Policing and Society, 22, 397–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peeters, G., & Czapinski, J. (1990). Positive-negative asymmetry in evaluations: the distinction between affective and informational negativity effects. European Review of Social Psychology, 1(1), 33–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. (2015). Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.Google Scholar
  43. Raykov, T. (1997). Estimation of composite reliability for congeneric measures. Applied Psychological Measurement, 21, 173–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rosenbaum, D. P., Schuck, A. M., Costello, S. K., Hawkins, D. F., & Ring, M. K. (2005). Attitudes toward the police: the effects of direct and vicarious experience. Police Quarterly, 8(3), 343–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Russell, D. W., Kahn, J. H., Spoth, R., & Altmaier, E. M. (1998). Analyzing data from experimental studies: a latent variable structural equation modeling approach. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(1), 18–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sahin, N. M. (2014). Legitimacy, procedural justice and police-citizen encounters: A randomized controlled trial of the impact of procedural justice on citizen perceptions of the police during traffic stops in Turkey (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Newark: Rutgers University.Google Scholar
  47. Schaubroeck, J., May, D. R., & Brown, F. W. (1994). Procedural justice explanations and employee reactions to economic hardship: a field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(3), 455–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sklansky, D.A. (2011). The persistent pull of police professionalism. New Perspectives in Policing. Retrieved from
  49. Skogan, W. G. (2006). Asymmetry in the impact of encounters with police. Policing and Society, 16, 99–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Skogan, W. G. (2012). Assessing asymmetry: the life course of a research project. Policing and Society, 22, 270–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2003). The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing. Law and Society Review, 37, 513–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tankebe, J. (2009). Public cooperation with the police in Ghana: does procedural fairness matter? Criminology, 47, 1265–1293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tankebe, J. (2013). Viewing things differently: the dimensions of public perceptions of police legitimacy. Criminology, 51, 103–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Taylor, S. E. (1991). Asymmetrical effects of positive and negative events: the mobilization-minimization hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Taylor, T. J., Turner, K. B., Esbensen, F., & Winfree, L. T., Jr. (2001). Coppin’ an attitude: attitudinal differences among juveniles toward police. Journal of Criminal Justice, 29, 295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Thibaut, J. W., & Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale: L. Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  57. Tuch, S. A., & Weitzer, R. (1997). Trends: racial differences in attitudes toward the police. Public Opinion Quarterly, 61, 642–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tyler, T. R. (1989). The psychology of procedural justice: a test of the group-value model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 830–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tyler, T. R. (2005). Policing in black and white: ethnic group differences in trust and confidence in the police. Police Quarterly, 8, 322–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tyler, T. R. (2006). Why people obey the law. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Tyler, T. R., & Blader, S. L. (2003). The group engagement model: procedural justice, social identity, and cooperative behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 349–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tyler, T. R., & Fagan, J. (2008). Legitimacy and cooperation: why do people help the police fight crime in their communities? Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 6, 231–275.Google Scholar
  63. Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. (2002). Trust in the law: Encouraging public cooperation with the police and courts. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  64. Tyler, T. R., Goff, P. A., & MacCoun, R. J. (2015). The impact of psychological science on policing in the United States: procedural justice, legitimacy and effective law enforcement. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16, 75–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tyler, T. R., & Lind, E. A. (1992). A relational model of authority in groups. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 115–292). San Diego: Academic.Google Scholar
  66. Van Prooijen, J. W., van den Bos, K., & Wilke, H. A. M. (2004). Group belongingness and procedural justice: social inclusion and exclusion by peers affects the psychology of voice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 66–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Webb, V. J., & Marshall, C. E. (1995). The relative importance of race and ethnicity on citizen attitudes toward the police. American Journal of Police, 14, 45–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Weitzer, R., & Brunson, R. K. (2009). Strategic responses to the police among inner-city youth. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(2), 235–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wenzel, M. (2006). A letter from the tax office: compliance effects of informational and interpersonal justice. Social Justice Research, 19, 345–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Worden, R., & McLean, S. (2016). Research on police legitimacy: The state of the art. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management.Google Scholar
  71. Yu, C. (2002). Evaluating cutoff criteria of model fit indices for latent variable models with binary and continuous outcomes. Doctoral dissertation. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward R. Maguire
    • 1
  • Belén V. Lowrey
    • 2
  • Devon Johnson
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  2. 2.American UniversityWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

Personalised recommendations