Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $497,785)
Despite progress in many aspects of policing, police-community relations remain a major concern in the United States. With public confidence at its lowest in 20 years, and with approximately half of Americans reporting they do not trust the police to be fair and just, there is considerable room for progress. This distrust is compounded by frontline officers’ lack of “soft” skills training, such as communication, that can improve these relations. Most police academies devote less than 2% of training time to communication, and even less to interviewing skills -the focus of this proposal. The use of inadequate interviewing skills risks alienating community members and missing crucial information at the outset of investigations. Training in evidence-based interviewing, could provide substantial and widespread benefits, given frontline officers’ extensive interactions with the public.
We will create and test a novel “fundamentals of evidence-based interviewing” training for frontline officers through randomized controlled trial (RCT). Half of a sample of Austin Police Department’s patrol officers (n = 250) will be randomly assigned to receive training. We will use a mixed-methods approach to compare trained officers to untrained officers during service calls, pre and post training. We will code their use of skills from the training (rapport building, productive questioning) and the outcome of their interactions with the public (information gain). We will survey the community members involved in those interactions to assess their perceptions of procedural justice, level of trust in, and willingness to cooperate with the police. Mixed effects models and multilevel modeling will be used to compare trained and untrained officers and repeated measures models will be used to assess the progress of trained officers pre and post training.
We expect an increase in public perceptions of procedural justice, trust, and willingness to cooperate with the police post-training (and compared to control) as well as an improvement in quantity and quality of information gained from interactions. This project is innovative in two ways. It brings a wealth of literature about beneficial interviewing practices from the interrogation room into the field. Second, it connects two large bodies of work – interviewing and procedural justice – by evaluating how interviewing procedures that yield more and better quality information might also serve to improve police-community relations. If successful, this training model will be disseminated to practitioners for use in academy trainings to help law enforcement develop a set of tools to interact positively and productively with the public. CA/NCF