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
The author would like to thank John Hipp, Michael Gottfredson, and Carroll Seron for their guidance, support, and feedback on this project; Tam Vu for his help running participants for this project; and David Maggard Jr., Mike Hamel, Julia Engen, Tim Knight, and the many officers and support staff from the Irvine and Newport Beach Police Departments for sharing their time and equipment in order to make this project possible. The author would also like to thank the editorial team and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments regarding this manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Statement of human rights
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that they have no conflict of interest.
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