CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, August 3, 2012

Meares, Tyler & Gardener on Lawfulness and Perceived Police Misconduct

Meares_tracey(1)Tracey L. Meares (pictured), Tom Tyler and Jacob Gardener (Yale University - Law School, Yale University - Law School and affiliation not provided to SSRN) have posted The Two Different Worlds We Live In: Lawfulness and Perceived Police Misconduct on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Discussions among legal authorities about the desirability of police policies and practices usually take place within a framework of judgments about lawfulness. The policies of police departments, as well as the actions of police officers are viewed as right or wrong with reference to Constitutional standards, as interpreted by prosecutors, judges and juries. We argue that the public is generally insensitive to the question of whether police officers are acting consistently with constitutional standards and instead and evaluates the appropriateness of police actions primary by assessing whether or not police officers are exercising their authority with reference to “procedural fairness.” Legal authorities and the public live in two separate worlds.

Using the results of a study involving respondents from representative American cities in which each completes a questionnaire and then watches and reacts to three videos of police-citizen interaction we argue that public judgments about whether police officers should be disciplined for misconduct are largely shaped by people’s procedural justice evaluations. The actual lawfulness of police officer conduct has at best a minor influence upon people’s evaluations. 

We argue that these findings suggest the need for the police to broaden the framework within which they evaluate a variety of types of policing policy – racial profiling; zero tolerance policing; street stops; Mosque surveillance, etc. – to include an understanding of how these policies and practices impact public views about the appropriateness of police conduct. Further, they point the way toward creating relationships between the police and the public that first enhance cooperative efforts to maintain social order and second build people’s identification with and commitment to both the communities in which they live and to law and government. That broader framework requires evaluating police policies and practices with reference to public conceptions of procedural justice.

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