Police aren’t seen as part of community according to KU study

Photo: U.S. Department of Justice / MGN

LAWRENCE (KSNT) – People’s perception of police is dramatically impacted by policies like NYC’s stop-and-frisk and investigatory police stops. That’s according to a new journal article written by a University of Kansas researcher.

Often, local law enforcement agencies aren’t seen in a local government context, meaning they aren’t seen as part of the community. Shannon Portillo, associate professor in the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration says that neither responses to recent race-fueled incidents across the country or the proposed policing reforms from a presidential task force have been enough to cause communities to see officers as one of them.

“Although citizens interact with police both voluntarily — through calls for service — and involuntarily — such as detainment as part of a traffic or investigatory stop— the larger point is that police departments have much to lose if citizens are dissatisfied,” Portillo said.

In the study, Associate Professor Portillo and co-author Danielle Rudes, an associate professor of criminology, law and society at George Mason University, recommend that police departments should work more closely with their cities and neighborhoods. The researchers say local law enforcement should use stop-and-frisk tactics only as a last resort.

“As currently applied in New York City and other places, stop-and-frisk policies may well cause police to lose their legitimacy,” Portillo said. “This represents a crucial challenge for police in their relationships with communities and citizens, and reactions to the policies are intimately linked to the ability of the police to investigate, solve and deter crime.”

In their study, the pair found that some see police as “street-level” bureaucrats; basically that officers are free to make decisions without complete oversight. The fear is that they operate out on the street with very little supervision.

“Street-level bureaucrats often mirror and propagate societal views, including the prevailing orientations toward racial and ethnic minorities and the poor, existing in the broader sociopolitical landscape,” Portillo said.

The study was reported in an article titled “Construction of Justice at the Street Level” in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.

She said policies like stop-and-frisk or investigatory police stops that are often characterized as racial profiling do not mean individual police officers are racist.

Portillo says that police reform should not focus exclusively on accountability, also take a borad look at how local governments oversee police as well as promote community initiatives for health, poverty reduction, and education.

“Police should not see their central focus as punitive, but rather as promoting public safety and the public good,” Portillo said.

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