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Role Conflict and the Psychological Impacts of the Post-Ferguson Period on Law Enforcement Motivation, Cynicism, and Apprehensiveness


In the wake of high-profile deadly force cases in the post-Ferguson era, a number of negative psychological outcomes have been depicted by law enforcement officers. We examine if negative post-Ferguson outcomes predict current cynicism, motivation, and apprehensiveness. Further, we account for whether role orientations, specifically support for a law enforcement orientation or a community policing orientation, mediate the psychological effects of the post-Ferguson period. Since the law enforcement orientation, exercised through strict enforcement of the law, has been called out of favor in the post-Ferguson area, supporting this role may negatively impact officers via role conflict. The opposite may be observed for those supporting a community policing orientation. We test these arguments using results from an online survey of law enforcement officers in the USA, administered 6 months following highly publicized incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge where police were targeted and killed. Results showed that post-Ferguson psychological impacts continued to affect current levels of cynicism, motivation, and apprehensiveness. Support for law enforcement or community policing orientation did not mediate the effects of post-Ferguson sentiments. Nonetheless, role orientations played a significant role in predicting current cynicism, motivation, and apprehensiveness and provided support for the theory of role conflict.

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  1. It should be noted that police everywhere are allowed to engage in stop-and-frisk on their own without it being a department-sanctioned strategy. Its law enforcement orientation is rooted in Terry v. Ohio (1968), which established “stop-and-frisk,” which allows law enforcement to stop citizens they reasonably suspect have committed, are committing, or about to commit a crime. Further, law enforcement may frisk, or pat down, the outer clothing for weapons if they suspect citizens to be armed and dangerous.

  2. The first asked “Are you a sworn law enforcement member [of]?” (Yes, No. The second asked “Which best describes the law enforcement agency you work for?” with responses State Police (1), Local Police (2), Local Sheriff (3), Campus Police (4), Federal Law Enforcement (5), and Other (6).

  3. A response rate was not able to be determined because does not have a roster of all active sworn law enforcement members.

  4. Patrol duty LEOs included those who answered yes to “Do you belong to a patrol unit or patrol division with you department?” (N = 1841) or answered yes to “Are you currently in a traffic unit/division, or k-9 unit/division” (N = 38). Moreover, patrol duty specific measures used for independent variables are based on unranked patrol duty LEOs.

  5. Our cutoff for the post-Ferguson period was the mass shootings targeting law enforcement in Dallas and Baton Rouge, in July of 2016, which we refer to as the post-Dallas period (see Clifton et al. 2018).

  6. We do note that de-policing may not be entirely a negative outcome, and in response to aggressive law enforcement strategies may be seen as necessary (see Fagan and Ash 2017; Shjarback et al. 2017).


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Correspondence to Jose Torres.

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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.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Torres, J., Reling, T. & Hawdon, J. Role Conflict and the Psychological Impacts of the Post-Ferguson Period on Law Enforcement Motivation, Cynicism, and Apprehensiveness. J Police Crim Psych 33, 358–374 (2018).

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  • Role conflict
  • Community policing
  • Police cynicism
  • Police apprehensiveness
  • Ferguson effect