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Does Low Self-Control Contribute to Police Officers' Procedurally Unjust Treatment of Citizens? A Unique Test of Gottfredson and Hirschi's Generality Hypothesis

NCJ Number
Police Practice and Research Dated: 2020
Christopher M. Donner
Date Published
8 pages
In order to test the assertion that police officers' procedurally unjust behavior in interaction with citizens can be explained through a general theory of crime, such as Gottfredson and Hirschi's low self-control theory, the current study analyzed survey data from a sample of officers in a midwestern police department.
Over the last decade, American policing has endured a legitimacy crisis. During this time, many citizens - particularly citizens of color - have begun to lose trust and confidence in the police. The legitimacy crisis has underscored the importance of procedurally just policing practices, and it is largely why procedural justice was a cornerstone recommendation of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. On the other hand, procedurally unjust practices have been conceptualized as police misconduct because officers who are unfair, biased, rude, and ambiguous during police-citizen encounters are engaging in behavior that violates the law, department policy, and/or ethical codes of conduct. The results of the current study indicate that low self-control was initially related to officers' procedurally unjust behavior; however, this relationship disappeared in a multivariate context. Instead, organizational justice and cynicism were found to be more influential in officers' unjust behavior with citizens. Specific findings, theoretical and policy implications, and study limitations are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)