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    Impact of Media on Police Officers

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    Hopes to address this area as a means of providing a baseline for media outlets and law enforcement agencies to assist with increasing overall awareness of the day to day actions of officers and how morale can be increased in an anti-police society. For purposes of this study, the Ferguson effect does not directly relate to an increase/decrease in crime rates but an increase in hostility towards law enforcement and how it relates to officer morale.

    Research Design

    The current study will utilize data obtained from a survey of sworn personnel in the State of Florida from agencies with more than 100 sworn personnel. The survey will be distributed via email to agency training coordinators. Each training coordinator will be asked to provide the link to their agency for voluntary confidential cooperation. Based upon responses received, a sample of 40% of all responding agencies will be utilized. Responses will be assigned a number and selection will be based upon a randomized number generator set to select 40% of the returned responses.

    Data will be collected from surveys given to sworn law enforcement officers and deputies at each participating agency. Upon completion of the survey, each respondent will be assigned a number for reference and further contact. To ensure the level of confidentiality, no information will be collected regarding agency name/location. Each respondent will be offered the opportunity to perform at a simulator under simulated stress conditions. The simulator will be offered two separate times. The first time is prior to any new exposure to negative stimuli. Prior to entering the simulator for a second time on a separate visit, the participants will be exposed to a negative media campaign and crowd videos from anti-police rallies, officers will then enter the simulator and their decision making/hesitation measured compared to the initial simulator course.

    The relationship between the Ferguson Effect, media coverage and officer attitudes are all included in the legitimacy crisis. The first hypothesis that needs to be tested is if officers believe that the media has caused unjustified scrutiny of police practices. If the officer believes that the increased scrutiny is indeed unwarranted, a second hypothesis tested is that negative media portrayal is positively associated with fueling both a.) violence and b.) false accusations by civilians against officers. By combining both increased media scrutiny and increased civilian hostility towards law enforcement another hypothesis tested is that police officers’ perception of media and a perceived increase in violence against officers along with an increase in fear of false accusations with lead to a decrease in officer productivity and morale. The final hypothesis to test is how these officers’ fears affect the decision to utilize force against a non-compliant subject through the use of a training simulator.

    Dependent Variables

    1. Perception of negative media coverage on police practices Prior to beginning with this research study, a determination needs to be made showing that officers believe that the media portrayal of modern American policing techniques is thought to only show a negative aspect of policing fueling anti-police sentiment. The participating officers would be asked if they believe in the “Ferguson Effect” utilizing a Likert scale to measure responses (Strongly agree. Agree, Neither agree nor disagree, Disagree, Strongly disagree). Responses to this variable set the groundwork for proceeding with the rest of the survey.
    2. Negative media bias fueling violence and accusations against police The second point of interest is if officers believe that media has caused a rift between police and the citizens they serve. This belief is important because when civilians question the legitimacy of police they are much less likely to comply with lawful orders (Tyler & Jackson, 2014). Officers will be surveyed to see if they feel as though public hostility has increased or decreased during the course of their career in the following categories; public distrust of police, disrespect by suspects, civilian hatred of police, false allegations against officers, non-compliant with lawful orders and lastly physical assaults on officers.

    Decreased Morale and Productivity

    The third dependent variable is reflective of the officer’s morale and productivity. While a newly hired recruit will be likely to dive head first into any scenario, a seasoned veteran may not be as willing to perform self-initiated activity due to complacency or laziness. To account for this, officers will be asked to provide their years of service as a means of controlling for anticipated differences between these groups. Officers will be sorted into the following categories; 1-5 years, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26+ years). Officers will then be asked about their overall morale by rating as a positive or negative increase over the past 5 years of their career:

    1. has your work productivity gone down as a result of negative media towards police
    2. are you less likely to perform self-initiated calls as a means of avoiding being the next big news story
    3. how would you rate your performance now versus 5 years ago.

    The following questions utilize the Likert Scale previously mentioned above:

    1. the morale of the agency changed due to outside pressure from the community
    2. I am weary of the public while I am at work
    3. I avoid being the first responder to a major call
    4. I am fearful of a false allegation of misconduct
    5. the number of complaints against myself or my partners has increased in the last 5 years.

     Performance under scrutiny

    The final data collection draws upon training and experience of each officer who participates. Utilizing a police simulator, officers will be given 5 scenarios. Each of the scenarios requires the use of force in order to necessitate an arrest of a non-compliant suspect. Two of the scenarios are no-win scenarios which require the use of deadly force, while the remaining three will be scenarios which do not require deadly force be utilized. The deadly force scenarios will play out exactly the same for each scenario, although the location/surroundings may change. After the first use of deadly force, 50% of participating officers will then sit through a simulated negative media campaign(experimental group), while the remaining 50% are not exposed to this media coverage (control group). Officers will be selected via randomized selection (coin flip) at the simulation site. Officers will then re-enter the simulator and the level of hesitation will be measured through a performance evaluation and time differences between the actions and the officer’s decision to shoot/not shoot based upon video comparison.

    Independent Variables

    Negative media coverage Officers will be asked if they believe that the media has been:

    1. fair
    2. truthful
    3. reliable and
    4. positive.

    They will utilize the previously discussed Likert Scale.

    Control Variables

    To account for socio-economic disparities in the areas worked by respondents the following will be included in the final models as a means of reducing the risk of biased estimates from the sample: Respondent gender, race/ethnicity, education, economic status of area patrolled (affluent/impoverished), size of area patrolled, characteristics of residents in area worked.

    External Validity

    This study hopes to receive responses from across the State of Florida. While the standard of reasonableness with utilization of force is Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), agencies from other states may subscribe to a stricter standard than that of Florida law enforcement agencies which may cause different results while utilizing the simulator. Media coverage is also highly dependent of the area served which may also skew the results in another area. This study will provide a framework for future studies in to other states to utilize for further measurement. Expanding this study beyond the State of Florida would become too costly for this survey due to the utilization of the in-person simulator and time required for each session.

    Internal Validity

    Issues within the survey can be found by looking further into the morale issues officers may face. Officers who have been subjected to Internal Affairs Investigations prior to the recent media coverage may be less motivated to perform and when forced to produce may create further issues with the citizens they serve. Failing to adequately cope with job stress can also be a cause for lack of performance.

    Police officers see the worst that humanity has to offer and that can take a toll on anyone. Officers who do not find a positive outlet to get rid of the day to day stresses of their job will have low morale and enter into a dangerous territory with PTSD and depression. Lastly the training that an officer has received will alter the results of the simulations. A rookie officer and a veteran SWAT officer will not respond in the same way to nearly any call, especially a use of force situation. This is a comparison that can be expanded upon in further research.

    Data Analysis

    Survey results will be compared utilizing a multi-variate analysis method. Each Likert scale answer will be coded 1-5 with 5 being stronger feelings of disagreement with the statement. Control variables will be checked to ensure no bias is present during analysis. Simulator results will be scored utilizing a standard of performance based upon reaction time and utilization of verbal commands. Simulator sessions will be recorded and played back side by side to note any differences in officer attitude, time and decision making. Videos will be securely stored and numbered for participant confidentiality. Participants will also be debriefed by a trained staff member who will facilitate a self-critique at the fifth scenarios.


    It is anticipated that overwhelming evidence of the perceived “Ferguson Effect” will be reported by respondents. In today’s society where cameras are readily available to anyone who has a cellphone and 5 second clips make a sensationalized media story (right, wrong or indifferent) it is also anticipated that a media and citizen bias against police will also be responsible for officer perceptions on false allegations and low morale.

    Lastly, it is anticipated that officers who are subjected to the media campaign as a response to their first deadly force scenario will hesitate during their second deadly force encounter. This is an important assumption. The hesitation during a deadly force encounter may be the last thing an officer does before being killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. An officer needs to remain level headed regardless of how the media or citizens feel about them. Agencies should take note of the outcome of the simulator and survey results. Working closely with local media may ease some officer perceptions about false media narratives and in turn reduce the amount of negative bias from civilians.

    While this research hopes to expand the amount of data regarding the effects of media and societal attitudes towards law enforcement morale and decision making, further research into officer attitudes should be conducted. Studies should be conducted on how media/citizen attitudes vary by urban/rural. Further research should also be conducted into how media bias affects and officers policing style (watchman, legalistic or service oriented).


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