The Salience of Social Contextual Factors in Appraisals of Police Interactions with Citizens: A Randomized Factorial Experiment

29 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2014

See all articles by Anthony A. Braga

Anthony A. Braga

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Criminal Justice

Christopher Winship

Harvard University - Department of Sociology; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Tom Tyler

Yale University - Law School

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Tracey L. Meares

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: February 2014

Abstract

Objectives: Prior research indicates that public assessments of the manner in which the police exercise their authority are a key antecedent of judgments about the legitimacy of the police. In this study, the importance of context in influencing people’s assessment of police wrongdoing is examined.

Methods: A randomized factorial experiment was used to test how respondents perceive and evaluate police–citizens interactions along a range of types of situations and encounters. 1,361 subjects were surveyed on factors hypothesized to be salient influences on how citizens perceive and evaluate citizen interactions with police. Subjects viewed videos of actual police–citizen encounters and were asked for their evaluations of these observed encounters. Contextual primes were used to focus subjects on particular aspects of the context within which the encounter occurs.

Results: Structural equation models revealed that social contextual framing factors, such as the climate of police–community relations and the legality of the stop that led to the encounter, influence citizen appraisals of police behavior with effects comparable in size to and even larger than demographic variables such as education, race, and income.

Conclusions: These results suggest that the understandings and perceptions that people bring to a situation are important determinants of their assessment of police fairness. The police can positively influence citizen interpretations of police actions by striving to create a climate of positive police–community relationships in cities.

Keywords: police legitimacy, procedural justice, priming, randomized factorial experiment

Suggested Citation

Braga, Anthony A. and Winship, Christopher and Tyler, Tom and Fagan, Jeffrey and Meares, Tracey Louise, The Salience of Social Contextual Factors in Appraisals of Police Interactions with Citizens: A Randomized Factorial Experiment (February 2014). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-381, Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 471, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 506, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2414126

Anthony A. Braga (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-9835 (Phone)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Criminal Justice ( email )

123 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102-309
United States

Christopher Winship

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Tom Tyler

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Jeffrey_Fagan

Tracey Louise Meares

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4074 (Phone)
203-432-4876 (Fax)

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