Updating Ethics Training-Policing Privacy Series: Taking Race out of the Perception Equation

Policing has always been about differing perceptions. In police research, academicians use the perceptions of citizens, officers, and supervisors to measure the successes, or failures, of an organizations’ productivity. Whether studying the effects of random patrol in the Kansas City, Missouri, Random Patrol Study in the 1970s, the foot patrol studies of the 1980s, or contemporary research efforts such as Project Safe Neighborhoods Anti-Gang Training, researchers rely on human interpretations to measure police service quality and productivity. Unfortunately, there has been a long history of negative perceptions regarding bias-based police services that continue to be a challenge for police administrators today. Clearly, every police department has the ongoing duty to measure policing perceptions, fashion training curriculums to address those perceptions, and improve its overall policing services. Partnering with academia to gauge productivity perceptions, focused scenario training, and zealous supervision are the keys to maintaining an agency’s positive public persona.

Though a law enforcement organization’s image is predicated on the perceptions of its citizens, the onus is continually on the agency to maintain a positive public image. Research suggests most citizens seldom come in direct contact with their own police department. Media studies give credence to the idea that citizen perceptions of their police department, crime trends, and their fear of crime are all directly related to electronic and print media coverage.1 Consequently, citizens may possess a skewed perception of the reality in which their local police departments function. Society is inundated with daily media reports of violent crimes and the occasional police misconduct story; therefore, it is not surprising that a community’s perceptions of its local police department may not be as constructive as the police department administrators would like.