Explaining Suspect Disrespect Toward Police

Robin Shepard Engel, The Pennsylvania State University

The importance of suspects' demeanor toward police officers has almost always been described in terms of its influence on police behavior. Given the centrality of citizen demeanor in the literature on police behavior, it is surprising that so little attention has been focused on explaining disrespect independent of its influence on police behavior. Guided by Tedeschi and Felson's (1994) theory of violence, aggression, and coercive actions, this reseach examines the influence of suspect, situational, and officer characteristics on suspects' displays of disrespect using systematic observation data collected in 24 police departments in 3 metropolitan areas. The findings show that contrary to expectations, the majority of suspect, situational, and officer characteristics do not have a significant influence over suspect disrespect. Furthermore, the factors that do significantly explain suspect disrespect vary by how demeanor is measured. Nonwhite suspects are more likely to be noncompliant, but are not more likely to show more aggressive forms of disrespect toward officers. These findings are discussed and the implications for future research are explored.

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Updated 05/20/2006