Can New Procedures Improve the Quality of Policing? The Case of 'Stop, Question and Frisk' in New York City
54 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2016
Date Written: February 18, 2016
A spate of high-profile incidents of police violence have led to widespread calls for law enforcement reforms. However, much prior research on police misconduct offers few viable policy remedies because of its focus on potentially immutable officer traits like personality. I advance an alternative, institutional perspective, and demonstrate that police officers -- sometimes characterized as autonomous -- improve their behavior in response to managerial directives. Using millions of records of police-citizen interactions, alongside officer interviews, I evaluate the impact of a change to the protocol for stops of criminal suspects on police performance. An interrupted time series analysis shows that the directive produced an immediate increase in the rate of justified stops. Officers said the order signaled increased scrutiny from commanders, leading them to adopt more conservative tactics. This result shows that police behavior is in fact controllable, suggesting a reform strategy that is sometimes forestalled by psychological and personality-driven accounts of policing.
Keywords: police, stop and frisk, bureaucracy
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