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Teaching Respectful Police-Citizen Encounters and Good Decision Making: Results of a Randomized Control Trial with Police Recruits

January 2011

Dennis Rosenbaum , Daniel Lawrence


The primary objective for this study was to produce a program that would increase the quality of interactions between police and citizens by increasing the interpersonal skills and capacity of the officers. This program added about 20 hours to already existing curriculum and academic research on the topic of implicit bias and procedural justice. A curriculum was developed via the resources of 1) oversight personnel, 2) participation from academy instructors and supervisors in workgroups intended to develop, implement, and evaluate the new training program and 3) videotaping all recruits as they engaged in role-plays to allow individual feedback to each recruit. The curriculum was given to a random sample of recruits and instructors. There were no statistically significant differences between the demographics of the control and the experiment group. The experimental recruits and trainees developed their own verbal scripts that were guided by research on procedural justice, social support, customer satisfaction, and other areas of social interaction. Negative scripts were later utilized as examples of what not to do. Instructors would watch tapes of the recruits scenarios and provide feedback and one-on-one interactions with each recruit in the experimental group. Self-reported questionnaires were conducted before and 6 months after the training concluded for both the experimental and control groups. Survey based attitudes and behavioral intentions were supplemented by direct observations during the role play scenarios. Each video had two or three separate evaluators. 70 recruits were videotaped at the pretest and due to attrition, 34 were videotaped at the post-test. The program did not seem to impact recruits’ attitudes about showing respect or procedural justice. However, for a subset of recruits, the training appears to have increased respectful and reassuring behavior during real encounters with citizens.

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Policy Implications

Implementing and conducting procedural justice and implicit bias training programs, possibly can address the behavior of some trainees, but mostly may not affect their attitudes to various people. If the ultimate policy goal is change the behavior exemplified by officers when dealing with citizens, the program had a significant positive effect on recruits’ decision-making regarding conflict resolution. Researchers and practitioners argue that good decision-making is at the core at good police-community relations.

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