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Impact of Police Culture on Traffic Stop Searches: An Analysis of Attitudes and Behavior

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 28 Issue: 3 Dated: 2005 Pages: 455-472
Date Published
18 pages

This study tested the hypothesis that police officers whose values align more closely with the traditional police culture would be more likely to search suspects and their surroundings during traffic stops than officers whose values tend to differ from the traditional culture.


Cluster and multivariate analyses were performed on survey and observational data collected as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN). The POPN study examined policing in Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL, during the summers of 1996 and 1997, respectively. Each city was socially, economically, and demographically diverse. Although the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) and the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) were similar in many respects, they differed in the policing style promoted by top management. IPD officers worked within an organizational environment that promoted an aggressive order maintenance in policing (suppression of public disorder, drug crime, gang activity, and illegal weapons by intrusive law enforcement methods). SPPD officers, on the other hand, focused on a problemsolving/community partnership policing style. Researchers expected the IPD officers would engage in more search-related behavior during proactive traffic stops than SPPD officers. The culture measure was based on officers' responses to survey questions regarding their work environment in five major dimensions: attitudes toward citizens, supervisors, procedural guidelines, role orientation, and policing tactics. Officers' attitudes were not homogenous. The officers whose attitudes were most closely aligned with the traditional police culture of proactive aggressiveness in detecting crime committed by citizens and in maintaining order were more likely to engage in searches linked to proactive traffic stops than officers committed to the forging of positive and cooperative police-community interactions. Implications are drawn for police managers in their efforts to alter excessive officer search behavior. 7 tables, 7 notes, and 49 references

Date Published: January 1, 2005