Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

How patrol officers make decisions: Comparing a structural model to a process model
by Bonner, Heidi S., Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2012, 352; 3548920
Abstract (Summary)

A heavy research emphasis on the discretionary decision-making actions by police has led researchers to conduct a substantial amount of work regarding the individual, situational, organizational, and neighborhood influences on police behavior. The culmination of all this work results in one main conclusion—the majority of findings regarding the causes of police behavior are mixed. Further, current models of police behavior account for only a small amount of the variation.

In an effort to expand existing knowledge on police decision-making behavior, this research utilized the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN) observational data to conduct two primary analyses of dispute resolution encounters. First, a content analysis of the narrative debriefings of dispute resolution encounters was completed to develop overall themes of decision-making and account for both the depth and breadth of individual officer search for information in deciding on an outcome. Second, a structural model (based on coded observational data) of an arrest outcome in dispute resolution encounters was compared to a process model (based on the narrative data) of the arrest decision.

The content analysis revealed that officers utilize working rules (or, decision making shortcuts) and, further, that the influence of the working rule on decision making behavior is mediated by specific cognitive frameworks. The content analysis also revealed that officers, on average, used less than half of the information that was available to them prior to making a decision.

The comparison of the structural model (estimated using logistic regression) and the process model revealed that both models do quite well in predicting all dispositions. However, overall performance is driven by the fact that arrest is a rare occurrence. When it comes to predicting arrest, the process model performs better in both sites. Much of the information that is important to officers in an arrest decision is included in the process model but is rendered statistically insignificant in the structural model. That is because many of the informational inputs to which officers attend are important but rarely occur and, thus, would not be expected to be statistically significant. Thus, freed from any interpretation regarding statistical significance (and focusing instead on substantive significance), the process model seems to represent a more accurate depiction of the complex nature of the police decision-making.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Worden, Robert E.
Commitee: Bayley, David, McLean, Sarah, Terrill, William, Worden, Alissa
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Criminal Justice
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Law, Criminology
Keywords: Arrest decision, Decision-making, Police discretion, Process model, Working rules
Publication Number: 3548920
ISBN: 9781267847720
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