Public safety officers know that their profession could draw them to the fire at any moment, as has happened recently to six officers injured in a deadlock in Philadelphia.
However, in an era when cellphone videos with police behavior can become viral, the new social phenomenon of "police shame" is causing performance problems in police departments nationwide.
According to new research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, public security officials' proactivity declines when they perceive negative public control, even if they are deeply motivated to help people.
The study, "" I Want to Serve but the Public Does Not Understand: 'Prosocial Motivation, Image Disagreement and Public Safety Proactivity', by McCombs, Assistant Professor of Management Cephali W. Patil and R. David Lebel of the University of Pittsburgh found that police officers are less likely to proactively build relationships with community members and help solve their problems if they feel that the public does not understand the difficulties of their jobs.
"In the vast majority of jobs, it is really difficult for other people to understand your job, but people do not realize how much this misunderstanding can affect the behavior of police officers," Patil said.
The researchers asked 183 police officers at six agencies and 238 firefighters at eight stations in the southern United States whether they believed the public understood the difficulties of their jobs. Researchers also examined officers' supervisors for their proactivity.
Police officers and firefighters who said the public does not understand their jobs are significantly less likely to be rated proactive by their supervisors, even if their reason for doing their jobs is to help others.
"When proactive officers see something happening in a local neighborhood, they get out of the patrol car and go to help someone, even though they don't need to and nobody sees them," Patil said. "But being less proactive would mean taking a less active role while on shift and basically doing just what your boss tells you."
Patil said understanding how to improve public perception is key to healing this audience. Officials who feel that the public respects and appreciates the difficulties and dangers of their profession are much more motivated to communicate in a positive way with the people they serve.
"Our research is trying to show how important it is for us to take the next step to find out how we can actually change the public image of police officers," she said. "It also helps police officers believe that the public really cares and is not just a lip service."
The investigation sheds light on the importance of police confidence in the public
Cephalis C. Patil et al. "I want to serve, but the public doesn't understand: 'Prosocial motivation, image differences and proactive public safety, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2019). DOI: 10.1016 / j.obhdp.2019.07.002
Police less proactive after negative public scrutiny, study says (2019, August 20)
Retrieved August 20, 2019
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