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Police: Police Officer Behavior - Conclusion

research factors characteristics influence

It is clear that much effort has been devoted to attempts to explain police behavior. Since the 1950s, these efforts have evolved from research that was primarily qualitative in nature to current research that utilizes more complicated methodologies and analyses. This latter research has given scholars the tools to thoroughly explore police behavior by enabling comparisons that analyze characteristics of each observed police-citizen encounter. The four broad areas of factors that have been examined are situational/legal characteristics (e.g., suspect, victim, police-encounter, and legal features), individual officer characteristics (e.g., gender, race, education, and attitudes), organizational characteristics (e.g., police subculture, strategies, formal and informal policies, department styles, and supervision), and community characteristics (e.g., political, economic, and demographic).

Clearly, some of these factors exert a greater degree of influence over police behavior than others. For instance, it is generally agreed that individual officers' characteristics have little or no causal effect on police behavior, whereas legal factors are considered to be very strong predictors of police behavior. While extralegal variables usually have a smaller effect, they are important nonetheless because one would not expect these factors to influence behavior if police organizations are to be considered legitimate. The bulk of police research in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the explanatory power of situational and individual characteristics over police behavior. Much of the research in the 1990s has refined these earlier findings through more careful measurement and better data collection techniques. Unfortunately, less is known about the potential influence of organizational and community factors over police behavior; the range and level of explanatory power of these factors is not fully known.

Future police research should consider not only the influence of organizational and community factors, but also needs to examine a wider range of behavior. Currently, most research attempts to explain police use of arrest and force. More research is needed that examines other police actions that may not be as punitive as arrest and use of force, but nonetheless have a significant influence over the lives of citizens. Finally, police researchers need to explore alternative methods of data collection in an effort to better understand not just the decisions officers make, but why they make those decisions.

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