Research Briefs

The Patrol Officer’s Perspective on Rewards and Punishments

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Decades of extensive research in psychology has revealed that people respond to rewards and punishments in the workplace.1Law enforcement officers are no exception. We are generally motivated to engage in, or refrain from, specific behaviors because of the rewards and punishments associated with those behaviors.

Private industry often links pay and other rewards to specific employee performance goals. High performance often results in pay raises, swift promotions and bonuses. Failing to live up to the performance standards in the private sector often means that a potential year-end pay bonus is denied or that an under-performing employee will be included in the company’s next round of reduction-in-force layoffs.

In the public sector, however, we usually do not think of using employee rewards. This is, at least in part, due to the nature of civil service rules that make using formal rewards difficult. Public sector employers generally cannot offer pay bonuses or an unscheduled promotion to reward excellent work.

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Communicating Performance Expectations to Officers

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

It seems like common sense that if you want someone to do something for you, you would simply ask or tell that individual what you need to be accomplished. It would seem that this strategy of simply telling people what you need, is a better strategy than expecting people to intuitively know or read subtle hints about what you need. Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that leaders in law enforcement agencies, especially first-line supervisors, rarely give their team members clear instructions about what needs to be done.

One study, for example, involved observers attending 251 roll call briefings and ride-alongs with patrol officers on the Baltimore Police Department. The observers found that in only 4% of the shifts did supervisors give their officers any sort of directives or tasks. Even when tasks or directives were given, they were often stated in a vague way, such as “There has been an increase in burglaries in the Hampden neighborhood, so let’s give that neighborhood some extra attention”.

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Examining the Facts on Implicit Bias

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

A number of sources have claimed that public employees are influenced by implicit biases. The U.S. Department of Justice, the Police Executive Research Forum, and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, for example, have suggested that law enforcement officers hold unconscious, implicit biases against people of color. It has been argued that these implicit biases cause police officers to enforce the law in ways that discriminate against members of racial minority groups. Similar claims have been made against prosecutors, judges, and probation officers as an explanation for the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in our prisons and jails. Allegations have also been leveled against teachers and school administrators, suggesting that they treat white students preferentially over minority students, and that they do so as a result of these same unconscious, implicit biases.

One of the remedies often suggested to address implicit bias is some form of implicit bias training. Are these claims supported by the available evidence? The purpose of this brief is the factual examination of the empirical evidence surrounding the concept of implicit bias, implicit bias tests, and the relationship between implicit bias test scores and actual discriminatory behavior.

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Street Sergeants Leading by Example: The Evidence

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Leadership in law enforcement, especially at the street level, is extremely important at a time when there is evidence of de-policing in certain neighborhoods and communities across the country, contributing to rising crime levels in those areas. There is a strong temptation for many officers, in light of a barrage of negative media attention and other demoralizing influences, to engage in less pro-active policing.

Even more concerning is the temptation on the part of supervisors to concede that forces outside of their control—such as negative media coverage, political leadership and agency administrators—render them powerless to motivate their people to actively engage on patrol rather than simply answering calls for service.

But the available research suggests that front-line leaders have the ability to take the lead in a given precinct, district or department to overcome this temptation to “kill time” in between calls for service. This research indicates that the actions of front-line law enforcement leaders can have a substantial influence on officer morale and officer work productivity. The idea underlying this influence is a simple but vital one: leading by example.

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Improving Police-Minority Relations: The Out-of-Car Experience

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

In the wake of a significant increase in officer deaths from violent attacks and unceasing criticism by media outlets, political figures and other groups in 2016, citizen satisfaction and confidence in the police in America has actually rebounded from a pattern of decline that has been going on since the early 1970s. In 1968, Gallup Poll data showed 78% of Americans had “a great deal” of confidence and satisfaction with their local police. Since that year, confidence and satisfaction in the police has declined, bottoming out at 47% satisfaction in 2015. In the latter half of 2016, however, citizen satisfaction and confidence in the police rebounded, with 76% of Americans indicating that they had “a great deal” of confidence in the police as of October, 2016.

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Inconsistent Employee Discipline

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Have you ever tried to suspend or terminate an employee for a serious act of misconduct, only to have this discipline reversed by a judge or grievance arbitrator? If so, you are not alone. Current research reveals that 5 out of 10 public employees are successful in having their discipline overturned when challenging their employers at arbitration or in court.
To address this issue, the Dolan Consulting Group recently conducted an analysis of more than 500 cases of public employee suspensions and terminations that went on to review by some form of outside arbitrator. These cases came from police departments, fire departments, sheriff departments, transportation departments, public works departments, county highways departments, airports, prisons, and parks & recreation departments. In approximately 50% of the cases, the outside arbitrator reversed or reduced the employer’s discipline, reinstating the
employee back to work. In our analysis, we examined the justifications these arbitrators gave for their decisions, finding that arbitrators often gave multiple reasons for overturning an employer’s discipline. The most common reason the arbitrators cited for overturning a public employee’s suspension or termination was inconsistent discipline.

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Developing Organizational Performance Leadership