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Police Culture and Coercion

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 41 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2003 Pages: 1003-1034
Date Published
November 2003
32 pages

Utilizing data from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN), examining policing in Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL, this study examined the relationship between traditional views of police culture from an attitudinal perspective, and coercion from a behavioral perspective.


Over the years, studies of police coercion have generated considerable interest. However, absent from research is the attempt to quantitatively examine the relationship between alignments with police culture and acts of coercion. This study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, argues that the use of coercion with suspects will vary depending on the ways in which officers adhere to the attitudes associated with the traditional view of the police culture. It was hypothesized that those officers who closely embody the values of the traditional views of police culture were more coercive compared with those that did not equally align with the culture. The study analyzed data from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN), a systematic social observation, which examined policing in both Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL, in the years 1996 and 1997. The study began by developing a classification scheme of officers based on their attitudes toward citizens, supervisors, procedural guidelines, role orientation, and policing tactics in order to test the proposition that differences in coercion are a result of variation in cultural alignments. Two measures of officers’ attitudes toward citizens were examined: (1) officer distrust of citizens and (2) the degree to which officers perceive citizens as cooperative. The study revealed that officers’ attitudinal differences toward the traditional view of police culture produced differences in coercive actions over suspects. Officers who embodied the values of the traditional police culture, or had mixed views toward the culture, were more likely to use coercion compared with officers with nontraditional cultural attitudes. The analysis suggests that although broad-based, almost caricatures of police culture have general utility, they are misleading. The findings support the notion that some groups of officers were traditional culture carriers, but variation in adherence to the police culture was also found. Although it is believed that the findings contribute to the overall understanding of the relationship between culture and coercion, conclusions come with caution. Tables and references

Date Published: November 1, 2003