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Mastrofski (1999) - Policing for People

Mastrofski (1999) - Policing for People

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Published by: PoliceFoundation on Oct 29, 2012
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Ideas inAmericanPol icing
 By Stephen D. Mastrofski
 Policing For People
March 1999
 Ideas in American Policing
presentscommentary and insight fromleading criminologists on issues of interest to scholars, practitioners,and policy makers. The paperspublished in this series are from thePolice Foundation lecture series of the same name.Some of the research reported inthis document was supported byGrant No. 95-IJ-CX-0071 from theNational Institute of Justice, Officeof Justice Programs, U.S. Depart-ment of Justice. Points of view inthis document are those of theauthor and do not necessarilyrepresent the official position orpolicies of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Police Foundation.
© 1999 Police Foundation andStephen D. Mastrofski. All rights reserved.
Stephen D. Mastrofski
is aprofessor in the School of Criminal Justice at MichiganState University.
Ever since Americans firstformed full-time public policeforces, they have busiedthemselves improving them.Improvements come in all shapesand sizes, but reform movementsare energized by big, ambitiousgoals. Community policing is thecurrent catchword for reform,and it too embraces a number of ambitious goals: reducing crimeand disorder, calming fears aboutthreats to public safety, reducingthe public’s alienation from socialinstitutions once thought toengender a common sense of purpose. Reformers usuallypresent these objectives as theultimate end-product or
of what public police are allabout. As important andintriguing as these objectives are,they are not my topic. But Ibegin by mentioning thembecause I think that we oftenplant our gaze so firmly on thegrand objectives that wesometimes overlook the littlethings we can do to improvesocial institutions such as thepolice.I get anxious when peopletalk about
bottom line inpolicing because that perspectivemakes it easy to forget that oursystem of government requires abalancing among competing andsometimes conflicting goals. Tocontribute to that balance, I willfocus on the processes of policing, which receive littlereform attention but whichdeserve equal billing. Theseprocesses involve the moremundane aspects of police work,what police do when they policefor people. I will consider whatpolicing for people is, and could
 — 2
be, in terms of service to people.To begin, I identify sixcharacteristics that Americansassociate with “good service”from their police, adapted from ageneral characterization of servicequality in the private sector(Parasuraman et al., 1988). I willthen turn to some evidence onhow well American police areproviding these services, and willconclude with a reform agendathat promotes policing forpeople.
What Policing forPeople Means
is the firstelement of policing for people.Americans want their serviceproviders to pay attention tothem. Putting 100,000 moreofficers on the street has appealbecause it increases the capacityof America’s police forces to bemore attentive. It is nowfashionable to denigratepreventive patrol and reactivepolicing, but they remain popularbecause Americans want policewho are “around.” What appealsto the public about communitypolicing is the promise thatoutreach programs will increasethe public’s access to the police.Neighborhoods fight to keeptheir community policing officersnot just because they grow fondof the individuals, but becausetheir presence demonstrates thedepartment’s commitment toserve them.
is the secondelement of policing for people.People expect a degree of predictability in what police do.They want service that is timelyand error-free. McDonald’ssucceeds not because the cuisineis superb but because the food ispredictable and more-or-lesserror-free. When it works well,911-service is like McDonald’s. Itis not a five-star restaurant, but itprovides service fast, fulfillingbasic “people-processing” needsto deal with problemsimmediately (Mastrofski andRitti forthcoming).People also want
. Americans expect more of their police than mere adherenceto bureaucratic rules (Bordua andReiss 1967, 297). They expect“client-centered” service. Thiscan mean giving clients what theywant, but clients themselves oftenconstrue it more broadly. Agood-faith effort by an officer isoften appreciated as much as afavorable outcome. Citizens aredelighted, and often surprised,when their police see a jobthrough to completion, checkingback later to see how thingsworked out. Police can beresponsive even when they deny acitizen’s request, by explainingthe denial. G. K. Chestertonobserved, “Many a man wouldrather you heard his story thangranted his request.” Andsometimes about all the policecan do is “pick up the pieces”after some traumatic event. Whencitizens are traumatized, whateverelse police might accomplish, itcosts little to offer some measureof comfort or reassurance.The public wants
—service providerswho can get the job done. Whenyou get your car repaired, youexpect the mechanic to knowwhat he or she is doing. Whenyou call the police to report atheft, deal with a domesticdisturbance, or quell a noisy partynext door, you expect theresponding officer to know howto deal with the situation. Thepublic judges police competenceprimarily in terms of the tangiblethings they can readily observe.They do not use crime statisticsor other so-called outcomemeasures. They watch the officerat work and make judgmentsabout his or her ability to get the job done.
 Police can be responsive evenwhen they deny a citizen’s request, by explaining the denial.
 — 3
How the average citizendefines police competence may bedifferent from how anexperienced and skilled policeofficer defines it. The popularview on these differences is thatthey are a mile wide. Policeregard the public as ignorant andill-informed about whatconstitutes good police work,while the more alienated amongthe public regard the police aspoorly trained and lackingmotivation to do what thetaxpayers define as good policing.These differences may beoverstated, and where they dooccur they may do so inunanticipated directions. Forexample, the vast majority of theAmerican public approves of police striking a citizen whoattacks an officer with his fists,and about two-thirds approve of a police officer striking a citizenwho tries to escape custody(Maguire and Pastore 1997,132). Very few approve of apolice officer striking a citizen inresponse to vulgar comments orwhen questioning a murdersuspect. I would not be surprisedto see a similar distribution of responses if these questions wereput to a national sample of policeofficers.Where citizens may differmost from police in assessingpolice competence is inoverestimating officers’ capacities,both in terms of their legalauthority and their ability tomobilize resources. Where suchdifferences do exist, rather thanmerely lament them or try toconvince one side that the otheris right, we should encouragediscussion and debate, which willprobably do a great deal toenlighten people of allviewpoints. Further, it may bemost productive to considerdomains of police competencethat are not commonly expectedby either the police or the public.For example, police skill inhelping crime victims might bedefined not just in terms of bringing the offender to justicebut also helping victims reducethe risk of future harm (Herman1998).An essential element of quality service is having proper
. Studies show that a badmanner is among the mostfrequent complaints citizens haveabout their contacts with police(Skogan 1994, 33; Walker et al.1996, 102). Studies also showthat the most powerful predictorsof citizen satisfaction with thepolice have more to do with howpolice treated the citizen, ratherthan what the policeaccomplished (Skogan 1994, 31).Social scientists have repeatedlydemonstrated that when policeare nasty to the public, the publicis more likely to be nasty inretaliation, despite citizens’tendencies to defer to theofficer’s authority and status(Reiss 1971, 144; Sykes andClark 1975). Finally, for thoseconcerned about reducing crimeand disorder, a number of studiesshow that citizens are more likelyto obey the law and less likely tobe disorderly or violent in thefuture when those who enforcethe law do so in a manner that isnot disrespectful (Mastrofski et al.1996; Paternoster et al. 1997;Tyler 1990).The final element of policingfor people is
, particularlyimportant for public officialswhose special trust is to apply awide range of powers to enforcethe laws and maintain peace. TomTyler (1990; 1997) found thatcitizens who perceived that theywere treated fairly by legalofficials, such as the police, alsoreported a stronger inclination toobey the law in the future. Thefactor having the greatest impacton people’s feelings about lawand legal authority was theirperception of a fair procedure, animpact substantially greater thanthat of the citizen’s sense of thefavorableness or fairness of theoutcome. Tyler found that themost important elements of procedural fairness were people’strust in the authorities’ motives,
 An essentiaelement of quality service is having proper manners.

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