Police vehicles as symbols of legitimacy
To experimentally evaluate the effects of police vehicle types and esthetics on participants’ perceptions of police officers.
Using participant data (N = 307) from the Police Officer Perception Project (Simpson 2017), I experimentally assess the effects of police vehicles on perceptions of police officers. Specifically, I evaluate the impact of presenting officers in marked police vehicles (black and white versus white and blue), unmarked police vehicles, and unrelated (or civilian) police vehicles on perceptions of them as aggressive, approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable.
Police officers are perceived differently when occupying different types and colors of police vehicles. For example, officers are generally perceived more favorably when occupying marked police vehicles than when occupying non-marked police vehicles. When occupying marked police vehicles, officers are generally perceived more favorably when such vehicles have a black and white color scheme than a white and blue color scheme.
Police vehicle types and esthetics impact perceptions of police officers in significant and meaningful ways. Like uniforms, police vehicles can be important symbols of legitimacy which exude presence and nonverbally communicate philosophies and intentions to the public. Police departments may tailor the perceived intentions of their motorized patrols by strategically manipulating the appearance of their vehicles.
KeywordsExperimental criminology Legitimacy Motorized patrol Perceptions of police Police cars Policing Procedural justice Vehicles
The author would like to thank John Hipp and Michael Gottfredson for their feedback on this manuscript; 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
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 he has no conflict of interest.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2011). Law enforcement management and administrative statistics (LEMAS), 2007. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31161.v1.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015). Law enforcement management and administrative statistics (LEMAS), 2013. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36164.v2.
- Jones, B., & Tilley, N. (2004). The impact of high visibility patrols on personal robbery. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
- Kelling, G. L., Pate, T., Dieckman, D., & Brown, C. E. (1974). The Kansas City preventative patrol experiment. Washington, DC: Police Foundation.Google Scholar
- Powell, B. (2016). Canadian police forces’ switch to darker cruisers ‘a disturbing trend,’ critics say. The Star.Google Scholar
- Ratcliffe, J. H., Taylor, R. B., Askey, A. P., Grasso, J., & Fisher, R. (2017). The Philadelphia predictive policing experiment: impacts of police cars assigned to high crime grids. Available from: http://www.jratcliffe.net/research/the-philadelphia-predictive-policing-experiment/.
- Simpson, R. (2018). Officer appearance and perceptions of police: accoutrements as signals of intent. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pay015.
- Strebly, J. V. (2016). Why did Canadian police cars become so menacing? National Observer. Google Scholar
- The Canadian Press. (2016). Toronto police halt new ‘militaristic’ cars after council steps in. CTV News. Google Scholar
- Thomas, M. D., & Williams, C. C. (2012). Police car visibility: detection, categorization, and defining components. The Journal of Law Enforcement, 2, 1–29.Google Scholar
- Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar