Assessing Police Officers' Decision Making and Discretion

Geoffrey Alpert, University of South Carolina
John M. MacDonald, University of South Carolina
Roger Dunham, University of Miami
Katherine Bennett, Armstrong Atlantic State University

The purpose of the paper is to investigate police officer decision-making and discretion in police-citizen encounters, within a particular focus on police and minority interactions. Specifically, the paper reports on a test of the deference exchange theory and investigation of the actions taken during police-citizen contacts. The paper looks at the police officers' formation of suspicion. The analytical phase of the research includes transitional or conditional probabilities of the actions in each encounter. A critical assessment of the encounter will be determined by eliciting opinions from three sources including officers, observers and a sample of subjects to rate each encounter from the standpoint of language, gestures, and actions, among other cues. The rating is based upon the officers' actions or reactions (verbal or non-verbal). It is hypothesized that police officers have been trained to not take personally the insults or attacks that they may experience in an encounter with an officer. However, the research question is when do they react appropriately and inappropriately? Further, what are the characteristics that predict when their behavior and the outcome of the encounter?

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Updated 05/20/2006