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Neighborhood Characteristics Impact Police Behavior and Decision-making

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Introduction

Police behavior had consistently been one of the major concerns in the criminal justice literature over the past four decades and a considerable amount of research had been conducted to uncover factors that influenced police decision-making. Many researchers had assessed the characteristics of the situations in which citizens and police interacted. Others had focused their examination on officer characteristics, organizational variables, and community characteristics (Sun, Payne, and Wu 2008). Over the most recent years, police behavior and discretion has become increasingly questionable and has caused tremendous outrage in communities and neighborhoods. “It has long been acknowledged that police officers have substantial levels of discretion in their day-to-day activities” (Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt 2009). Although agency missions vary from state to state and county to county, a common denominator all missions have, is the promise to serve and protect their communities with respect, integrity, and dignity. One would expect police officers to execute their mission effectively and fairly. However, events that have taken place such as, Eric Garner and Alton Sterling, have caused a negative outlook on law enforcement and implied that police officers use coercive behavior in particularly neighborhoods. These neighborhoods usually being of low-income and disorder. Such ideas have gone as far as being portrayed in media, police officers with “hard core” attitudes patrolling in rough neighborhoods and friendly, laid-back police officers in suburban neighborhoods. The goal for this study is to determine if neighborhood characteristics impact the way police, police. My study will look to prove that neighborhoods who fit into the broken windows theory are at a disadvantage with law enforcement. This topic is significant to investigate because it is important to understand how neighborhood characteristics impact police practices.

Literature Review

According to Kelling (1974), Modern American policing had its origins in England, where, in 1829, the questions of whether to create a police force and, if created, how to keep this for accountable were debated by political, social, philosophical elites for more than a century. Everything about policing was “on the table” in this debate—the relationship of police to political authority, activities that would constitute the business of policing, organizational structure and administrative processes, and the means by which police would obtain their goals (Kelling 1974). Kelling (1974) stated, early English policing emphasized highly recognizable officers who were spread out though out London and patrolled on foot. The officer was authorized by Crown by they also had the responsibility to build a trusting relationship with their assigned community. According to Kelling (1974) investigations conducted by plainclothes police, were initially rejected. However, victims pursed criminal investigations through some form of stipendiary police. The primary assignment of police officer was to prevent crime through their presence which solely assisted in reduction of crime opportunity. Kelling (1974) explains that, in the United States, cities adopted the English model of policing. Although not originally outfitted in uniforms — this was deemed European elitism—American police were similarly diffused throughout cities, like their English counterparts, to prevent crime. For American police, the issue of who would control the police—urban political bosses or descendants of the original Dutch and English — was the dominant forces was to shape American police in remarkable ways… Police, with the support of the progressives, evolved into virtually autonomous urban agencies (Kelling 1964).

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Community/Neighborhood

One of the most important aspects of police making decisions and determining if neighborhood characteristics affect the way police, police is the community they are serving. For police officers, creating and maintaining a trust worthy relationship with a community can be a difficult task to accomplish because of sigma’s and misconceptions. If policing agencies or police officers have a poor relationship with their community, it affects the community’s willingness to report crimes which result in an increase of crime. Putting to the test collective efficacy which refers to the community’s ability to control or handle behavior in individuals or groups. “Collective efficacy is problematic outside of significant political and economic structure” (King, 2013). According to Nadal, Davidoff, and Allicock (2017), some studies suggest that Americans generally hold positive perceptions of law enforcement, others reveal that the general public harbors more negative perceptions of law enforcement or may be highly critical of police and view law enforcement as abusive. Since the 1960’s, scholars have found that race, age, contact with police and neighborhood types are primary variables that predict how people perceive the police.

Nonetheless, communities and neighborhood go hand in hand. A neighborhood is geographic, whereas, a community refers to people who reside in particular areas and are bonded by attributes such as social economic status, race and ethnicity, cultural, and historical factors. Essentially, a community sets the tone and characteristics for a neighborhood. For example, a community located in a more affluent, predominantly Caucasian neighborhood tends to pose less of a threat to police officers. Whereas, a neighborhood with members of the lower socio-economic status, and lack of ordinance may pose more of a threat to police officers. According to Sun, Payne, and Wu (2008), neighborhood explanations posit that police behavior can be explained in terms of demographic and institutional characteristics of communities. Researchers found some support for the influences of racial composition and socio-economic status of a neighborhood on police behavior. Police officers were more likely to issue citations, make arrests, and engage in coercive and abusive behavior in minority and racially mixed neighborhoods. Research also showed that poor neighborhoods were more likely to be subjected to control or coercive activities. According to Reisig and Parks (2003), “crime and deviance are more prevalent in poverty-stricken, disorderly neighborhoods”.

Race

Nadal, Davidoff, and Allicock (2017) state, people of color are less likely than Whites to trust the police, due to racial profiling and racial disparities in police behavior. Research has consistently demonstrated that Black Americans harbor substantially more negative perceptions of law enforcement than do White Americans. Latina/o Americans have also been cited as having much less confidence in the police than White Americans. Race, neighborhoods, and communities are at the forefront of cohesiveness within our society. A positive relationship between police officers and these three forefront factors is powerful and it determines the outcome of many situational encounters with police officers. Nadal, Davidoff, and Allicock (2017) explain that racial bias has been found to influence police behavior in number of ways. For instance, studies have supported that race influences misperceptions of weapons in split-second decision making with police and civilian samples and police response speed in decisions to shoot. Individuals make unconscious assumptions about people every day based on how they look, police are no different. However, police are often are presented with split decisions, situational factors, and authority that cannot be based off unconscious assumptions. Police must put their training into action. According to “Perceptions of Police, Racial Profiling, and Psychological Outcomes: A Mixed Methodogical Study”, reports of the New York City Union of 2012, researchers found that all of the Stop, Question, and Frisk incidents that took place in New York City, 85% of those targeted by the police were Black or Latina/o — a number significantly higher than the percentage of Black or Latina/os living in New York (approximately 50%). In the same year, 88% of all SQF’s that took place were deemed as unjustified stops, in that no one was arrested (Nadal, Davidoff, Allicock, 2017).

Discretion

Police work can be an extremely demanding career, most officers are faced with situational factors where they must use discretion to make rightful decisions. However, being that they are enforcing the law, discretion is questionable. “Discretion is exercised across a board array of situations including the decision to arrest, use force, and grant citizen requests for official action” (Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt, 2008). Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt (2008) suggest, there’s a reason to believe that police discretionary decision-making is influenced by ecological factors and social settings can influence the quantity, quality, and direction of law. Much like other factors in life, the ability of discretion the police force can be viewed in two ways; positive or negative. Discretion allows officers to make split decisions. It gives police officers the ability to officer those of a community a second opportunity. Mainly for those who have committed a minor infraction. However, some view discretion in the police force as giving the police officers unlimited authority to do as they please based off their own personal beliefs.

Police Behavior

Factors that attribute to police behavior are situational factors, officer characteristics, and neighborhood characteristics. Sun, Payne, and Wu (2008) states, police officers’ individual backgrounds and occupational outlooks, such as personal characteristics, work assignment, as well as attitudes, perceptions, and personality, influence their behavior during police-citizen encounters. All of these characteristics could also be applied to the definition of discretion and what a police officer analysis to make a decision. Just as community and neighborhood go hand in hand, discretion and police behavior have a similar relationship. According to Reisig and Parks (2003), police use of force is a product of several factors, including definitions of what constitutes normal crime in the patrol district, perceptions of victim deservedness, and levels of police cynicism. In other words, the seriousness of crimes in neighborhoods vary across the board. Reisig and Parks (2003) explain, in locations where normal crimes are defined in quite serious terms (aggravated assault), where victims are known to police as “criminals”, and where officers feel strongly that no matter what they do crime will continue to run rampant, police will pursue cases with less vigor than they would in more affluent, less crime ridden neighborhoods. Crimes are committed everywhere. However, the neighborhoods that tend to have higher rates of crime are disadvantaged and police officers are aware that no matter what they do, crime rates will continue to raise. According to Reisig and Parks (2003), crime and deviance are more prevalent in poverty-stricken, disorderly neighborhoods. Reisig and Parks (2003) further explained, analysis revealing that officer were more likely to threaten and/or actually use force when suspects were encountered in minority or racially mixed neighborhoods.

In the article, “Constructing Crime: Neighborhood Characteristics and Police Recording Behavior”, the researchers wanted to use both social disorganization theory and conflict theories to determine if neighborhood characteristics affected police reporting behaviors. According to Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt (2008), residents of disadvantaged communities often report police are less responsive to local concerns and assume relatively tolerant approaches to crime, especially street crime. The study took place in San Antonio, Texas. “San Antonio has one of the largest Latino Populations in the United States with a population that is approximately 60 percent Latino, 35 percent White, and 6 percent Black” (Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt, 2008). As per Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt (2008), San Antonio’s Latino neighborhoods demonstrate characteristics consistent with social disorganization. Exhibiting higher concentration of poor female-headed households and of individuals who rely on government assistance. This article was strong in the sense that it was well organized, and the method/data presented was relevant to the topic. The researchers presented strong arguments and were knowledge about their topic. However, a major weakness for this article was the facts that the researchers did not remain bias. Their research was to discover if neighborhood characteristics played a role in police behavior, but they concentrated on poverty/ stricken neighborhoods.

In the article, “The impact of situational factors, officer characteristics, and neighborhood context on police behavior: A multilevel analysis”, the researchers wanted to analyze the factors that were responsible for coercive and noncoercive behaviors in police officers. According to Sun, Payne, and Wu (2008), police behavior had consistently been one of the major concerns in the criminal justice literature over the past four decades. “This research was significant because it directly addressed the aforementioned concerns by studying and comparing patrol officers” (Sun, Payne, and Wu, 2008). Again, this article was well organized, however, for the most part the neighborhoods the researchers focused on were poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

Theoretical Framework

Broken windows theory and social disorganization theory will be the theoretical concepts present in this study. According to Varano, Schafer, Cancino, and Swatt (2008), social disorganization theory provides a framework for understanding how social control and other forms of government resources are mobilized within and between neighborhoods. Broken windows refer to a concept that an unattended problem in a specific environment can affect others in the same environment and lead to furthers issues. This present study will further uncover if neighborhood characteristics impact police decision and behavior. I will conduct a meta-analysis to find common findings, which will be accomplished through supportive resources.

Methods and Data

I conducted this study by using a meta-analysis, which consisted of varies database searches. Nine of the sources were extracted from William Paterson University academic journal search data base and the remaining articles were extracted from government sites. The nine academic journals were selected from a mixture of the Criminal Justice Abstracts data base and the Academic Search Complete, using the search terms: “neighborhood characteristics”, “neighborhood or communities”, “police behavior”, “police discretion”, and “police or law enforcement”. The articles were analyzed according to their themes, theories, methods. The data will be organized into a table chart, and each section will be labeled. The labels will include, the year of the study, the author/researchers who conducted the study, the themes discussed, and also the methodology of each study along with results.

Findings/Results

Most of the common themes in these studies involved race, neighborhood characteristics, and attitude towards police officers. My goal for this study was to determine that individual who live-in poverty-stricken neighborhood/communities are at a higher disadvantage with the law enforcement. All nine studies were successful revealing that neighborhood characteristic and race cause a major impact in police making decisions and both factors tend to make police officers more aggressive and cause coercive behavior. According to King (2013) suggest that police and techniques of policing in poor communities of color are a part of the cycle of poverty, racism, disempowerment and violence. King (2013) goes on to explain that police care the source of multitude of problems for these disadvantage communities, however, they are also the sole solution according to political context.

Discussion

The purpose of this current study was to determine if neighborhood characteristics affect the way police, police. The results confirm that 6 out of 9 (66.7%) of the research that was analyzed proved that neighborhood characteristics do in fact play a strong role in police behavior, police practices and situational decision making. However, in addition to neighborhood characteristics, perception of police officers also played a major role in the end result. Depending on the neighborhood, police were deemed aggressive and bias if there was a high percentage of individuals in that area who had negative experiences with law enforcement. Versus in more affluent neighborhoods, police officers had a better relationship with the community. Nonetheless, the current study did suffer from limitation. One limitation of this study was that not enough research was done to counter the scholarly articles that mostly focused on disadvantage neighborhoods when discussing how neighborhood characteristics affect how police, police. In addition to the lack of research for discretion. My advice for further research purposes is to be inclusive and find perspectives for both affluent and disadvantage neighborhoods regarding the topic. In addition, I believe that conducting a survey with different communities will be an effective hands-on manner of gaining a better understanding on the current study.

Conclusion

As a result of the current study, findings show that neighborhood characteristics indeed affect the way police, police. The results of this study present real results from real communities experiencing negative encounter with police officer for factor that may not be in their control. During the research, there was a gap between perspective on police and the policing techniques chosen by police. Consequentially, my results indicated that perspective of law enforcement from a community/neighborhood also plays role in the decision-making and tactics chosen by police officers responding to a call. The perspective of a police officer that is held by a community member will determine the type of attitude the civilian and police officer will have once there has been contact. Someone who has a poor attitude during an encounter with a police officer will set off their defense instinct and give the police officer a reason to believe the individual is in possession of something illegal is up to no good. Nonetheless, this study was to shed some light on a topic that has become quite controversial within the most recent years due to shootings and police killings of young Black Americans. Overall, this study explained factors that lead or play a role in the way police decisions, behaviors, and practices are determined.

References

  • Dowler, K., & Sparks, R. (2008). Victimization, contact with police, and neighborhood conditions: Reconsidering african american and hispanic attitudes toward the police. Police Practice & Research, 9(5), 395-415. doi:10.1080/15614260801980760
  • Ivan Y. Sun, & Ruth A. Triplett. (2008). Differential perceptions of neighborhood problems by police and residents: The impact of neighborhood-level characteristics. Policing: An International Journal, 31(3), 435-455. doi:10.1108/13639510810895795
  • King, M. (2013). “Broken windows,” urban policing, and the social contexts of race and neighborhood (dis-)empowerment. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/s10612-013-9172-9
  • Kramer, R., & Remster, B. (2018). Stop, frisk, and assault? racial disparities in police use of force during investigatory stops. Law & Society Review, 52(4), 960-993. doi:10.1111/lasr.12366
  • National. (1974). National, Nieuwbeerta, P., McCall, P. L., Elffers, H., & Wittebrood, K. (2008). Neighborhood characteristics and individual homicide risks: Effects of social cohesion, confidence in the police, and socioeconomic disadvantage. Homicide Studies, 12(1), 90-116. doi:10.1177/1088767907310913
  • Reisig, M. D. (2010). Community and problem-oriented policing. Crime & Justice, 39, 1-53. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cja&AN=57952719&site=ehost-live
  • Reisig, M. D., & Parks, R. B. (2003). Neighborhood context, police behavior and satisfaction with police. Justice Research and Policy, 5(1), 37-65. doi:10.3818/JRP.5.1.2003.37
  • Sun, I. Y., Payne, B. K., & Wu, Y. (2008). The impact of situational factors, officer characteristics, and neighborhood context on police behavior: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(1), 22-32. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2007.12.004
  • Varano, S. P., Schafer, J. A., Cancino, J. M., & Swatt, M. L. (2009). Constructing crime: Neighborhood characteristics and police recording behavior. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(6), 553-563. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2009.09.004

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