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Test of Turk's Theory of Norm Resistance Using Observational Data on Police-Suspect Encounters

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume: 42 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2005 Pages: 84-109
Date Published
February 2005
26 pages

This study used data from an observational study of the police in Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL, to test Turk's theory of norm resistance in relation to conflict in police-suspect encounters.


Austin Turk's theory of norm resistance (1969) describes how authority relations can be structured in ways that have various likelihoods of overt conflict (norm resistance) between authorities and subjects. In testing this theory, the current study was a partial replication and extension of research by Lanza-Kaduce and Greenleaf (1994, 1995, 2000), which focused on police incident reports for domestic disturbances in Charleston, SC. The current study follows the research recommendations from that study in using observational data, involving multiple jurisdictions, and examining norm resistance across a variety of encounters. Patrol observation was conducted in 12 beats in each city, with the sample of beats matched as closely as possible across the 2 sites. Approximately 240 hours per beat were devoted to observation of police activities by researchers. An "encounter" was defined as a face-to-face communication between an officer and citizen that was more than a passing greeting. Norm resistance, the dependent variable, was viewed as either suspect resistance or police use of force. Independent variables were related to the circumstances of the encounter ("organization"), "sophistication" measures of officer and suspect (ability to manage encounters), and the age and race of officers and citizens as "deference" norms. Six control variables identified in previous research as related to overt conflict in police-citizen encounters were incorporated in the study. The study found that the "organization" of the encounter and the "sophistication" of the police and suspect were significant predictors of overt conflict. The hypothesized influence of "deference" norms (officer race, age, sex, and wealth) in reducing the likelihood of conflict was not supported. 5 tables, 19 notes, and 34 references

Date Published: February 1, 2005