U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

How Does Reactivity Affect Police Behavior?: Describing and Quantifying the Impact of Reactivity as Behavioral Change in a Large-Scale Observational Study of Police

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 35 Issue: 4 Dated: July/August 2007 Pages: 453-465
Date Published
July 2007
13 pages

This study examined whether police officers were more or less proactive than usual based on the presence and characteristics of researchers who were observing their on-duty behaviors for analysis.


The study found that when in the presence of researchers-observers, some officers were more proactive than usual while other officers were less proactive than usual. Officers were 5.3 times more likely to be more proactive than usual in the presence of an observer. More proactive police behavior was concentrated in the early stages of field work. Also, female observers triggered more proactive police behavior during more than one out of every five shifts under observation. Officers were more proactive because they were either showing off or were worried the observer would be bored if the shift was too uneventful. They were also concerned they would be perceived by the observer as lazy. The more proactive officers also tended to be more aggressive when responding to calls with potential for drama, e.g., a crack bust. Officers who were less proactive than usual in the presence of a researcher-observer were distracted by the presence of the observer, were concerned about the observer's safety, and focused on not confirming the stereotype of being too aggressive in using force when making an arrest. Observers rode with patrol officers in 12 of Indianapolis' (Indiana) 50 patrol beats and 12 of St. Petersburg's (Florida) 48 patrol beats during the summers of 1996 and 1997, respectively. Thirty-seven observers accompanied patrol officers during 729 shifts and documented 7,443 police-citizen encounters. 2 tables, 7 notes, and 44 references

Date Published: July 1, 2007