Applying Social Learning Theory to Police Misconduct

Allison T. Chappell, University of Florida
Alex R. Piquero, University of Florida

Although numerous studies have attempted to understand the causes of various forms of police misconduct, there still exists no clear theoretical explanation of police misbehavior. This research seeks to shed some light on that gap by applying a general theory of crime and deviance to the phenomenon of police misconduct. Akers social learning theory posits that peer associations, attitudes, reinforcement and modeling are predictors of delinquency and crime in general. Herein, we seek to determine if the theory can account for police deviance. Data from a random sample of Philadelphia police officers are used to examine how police officers attitudes and perceptions of peer behavior are related to citizen complaints of police misconduct. Findings suggest that social learning theory provides a useful explanation of police misconduct, but that definitions favorable to minor forms of misconduct are not necessarily determinant of citizen complaints.

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Updated 05/20/2006