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UT Study: Negative public scrutiny leads to less community policing

KEYE jordan policing 6:30pm
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Public safety officers are less likely to “go the extra mile” if they’ve been publicly scrutinized, according to a recent UT study.

Shefali Patil, assistant professor of management at the McCombs school of Business at the University of Texas, conducted part of a study called ‘I Want To Serve but the Public Does Not Understand.’ Over the course of several years she spoke to hundreds of police and firefighters and concluded, in part, that viral videos of law enforcement officer misconduct play a big role in the negative perception of law enforcement.

The study found that public, negative perception of law enforcement can hurt an officer's efforts to be more proactive in the community.

“I think from a police officer’s perspective what is happening is, ‘yes, some officers made really bad decisions.’ But what (police) want is a process, right? It’s the immediate snap judgement that is made about the police officers, I think that’s leading to the misunderstanding,” said Patil.

Despite efforts by law enforcement agencies around the country to increase community policing and mend broken relationship, Patil said the negative perception is leading to more officers doing exactly what they’re told and nothing beyond that.

“Having to do your job, being recorded at the same time. All of these things, I think that police officers feel that the public doesn’t understand how difficult it is and how human they are at the end of the day,” she said.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said he’s not surprised by the conclusion of the study. “It’s just human nature to back off when you’re villainized and criticized on a regular basis,” said Casaday.

When the misconduct of an officer in another part of the country is caught on camera and shared with national media, Casaday said that even hurts perception in Austin.

Although there are efforts by local police to increase community engagement efforts, Casaday said community policing has taken a back seat due to the lack of officers. “Our recruiters tell us about it, they’ve been having a very hard time and they’ve been having a very hard time for the last several years filling classes. We’re trying to have three, 70-80 person classes next year and it will be an absolute struggle to fill half of that,” he said.

In an environment where there’s a high level of public scrutiny, Patil said police officers want to follow standard practices. The consistency of their regular work helps guide a public officer’s mental state rather than worrying about how they’re being perceived.

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