The Police Officer Perception Project (POPP): An experimental evaluation of factors that impact perceptions of the police
To experimentally evaluate the effects of attire and patrol strategy esthetics on participants’ perceptions of police officers.
Using a rigorously controlled experimental methodology, I present participants (N = 307) with images of police officers in different attire (i.e., uniform and civilian) and patrol strategies (i.e., on a bicycle, on foot, and in a vehicle) and measure their perceptions of these officers as aggressive, approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable.
Participants express relatively positive perceptions of the police; however, their perceptions vary as a function of sociodemographics, attire, and patrol strategy. Police officers are generally perceived more favorably when presented in police uniform than when presented in civilian clothing. Police officers are also generally perceived more favorably when presented on a bicycle and/or on foot than when presented in a vehicle.
Merely observing police officers in different attire and patrol capacities produces substantial variation in perceptions of those officers. Given that most ‘police interaction’ occurs in relatively unceremonious settings without any exchange of formal dialogue between the public and the police (e.g., observing a police officer in passing), these findings are particularly fruitful for informing both research and practice. This is the first known study to use an experimental methodology to examine how esthetic factors of different patrol strategies can impact perceptions of the police.
KeywordsBicycle patrol Experimental criminology Foot patrol Patrol strategies Perceptions of police Policing Procedural justice Social identity theory Uniforms Vehicle patrol
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