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Systematic review

Effects of and experiences with interventions aimed at improving public trust in the police

This systematic review has summarised research on police interventions aimed at improving relations between police and the public.

This systematic review has summarised research on police interventions aimed at improving relations between police and the public.


Key message

Cooperation with the public is essential for the success of police problem solving strategies. Public trust in the police is thus important. This systematic review has summarised research on police interventions aimed at improving relations between police and the public. We included 43 studies: 35 quantitative and eight qualitative studies. The main findings are:

  • Procedural justice may have an effect on public trust in the police, but may have marginal or no effect on victims’ trust in the police.
  • It is uncertain whether community policing has an effect on public trust in the police. Studies show a positive effect, but the evidence is of low and very low quality.
  • In qualitative studies about citizens’ experiences with community policing, citizens’ trust in the police was related to accessibility of the police, and whether officers were perceived as building relationships with the community.
  • It is uncertain whether the identified interventions about informing the public about the police have an effect on trust in the police. Studies show marginal or no effect, but the evidence is of low and very low quality.
  • It is uncertain whether the identified interventions aimed at youths have an effect on youths’  trust in the police.
  • In qualitative studies about youths’ experiences with police interventions, building relations with the youths were important to building youths’ trust in the police.

Summary

Background

Cooperation with the public is considered to be the most important resource for successful problem solving within the police. Public trust in the police is thus important. The National Police Directorate has commissioned a systematic review that summarises research –both quantitative (effects) and qualitative (experiences) - on interventions performed by the police aimed at improving the relation between the police and the public. The review aims to answer the following questions:

 

  • Do police interventions aimed at improving the relation between the police and the public have an effect on public trust in the police?
  • What are people’s experiences and perceptions of the police in relation to such interventions?

Objective

To summarise empirical research on the effects of interventions performed by the police that may affect public trust in the police, and on people’s experiences with the police related to such interventions.

 

Method

We systematically searched relevant databases in February 2013. Inclusion criteria were: Population : The general public, including all types of subgroups, but excluding police officers. Intervention : Interventions performed by the police aimed at improving relations between police and the public, preferably specifically aimed at improving public trust in the police.

For studies on effects of interventions (quantitative studies):

Comparison : No intervention; other interventions. Outcomes : Trust in the police, including indirect measures of trust such as attitudes, perceptions, satisfaction. Study design: Studies with control conditions.

For studies on experiences (qualitative studies):

Outcomes : Experiences with the police in relation to the above mentioned interventions. Study design : Qualitative interviews and focus groups.

The methodological quality of the included studies was assessed by using different check lists. The quality of the quantitative evidence was assessed using Grades of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE).

 

Results

We included 43 studies: 35 quantitative studies and eight qualitative studies.

The quantitative studies were performed in USA (n=23), Great Britain (n=6), Australia (n=2), Denmark (n=1), Canada (n=1), Trinidad and Tobago (n=1) and India (n=1) between 1973 and 2013. Outcomes included trust in the police, attitudes toward the police, perceptions of, evaluation of and satisfaction with the police. The included studies examined effect of the following interventions: 1. Information about the police; 2. Contact with adolescents; 3. Communication/procedural justice; 4. Community policing; 5. Interventions at organizational level; 6. Patrol task force to reduce signs of crime; 7. Hot spot policing; 8. Victim recontact program and; 9. Preventive car patrol. The main results are:

 

  • Procedural justice may have an effect on public trust in the police, but may have marginal or no effect among victims. The evidence is of moderate quality and we have medium confidence in the result.
  • It is uncertain whether community policing has an effect on public trust in the police. Studies show a positive effect, and an aggregated effect estimate from three non-randomised studies shows a small, but significant effect with a mean difference of 0.17 (95% CI 0.05-0.28) in favour of the intervention. The evidence is, however, of low and very low quality. It is thus uncertain whether the estimates are valid.
  • It is uncertain whether foot patrols , which is a central element of community policing, have an effect on public trust in the police. Studies indicate a marginal effect, but we have very low confidence in this result, given that the evidence is of very low quality.
  • It is uncertain whether the identified interventions about informing the public about the police have an effect on trust in the police. Studies show marginal or no effect, but we have low low confidence in this result, given that the evidence is of low and very low quality.
  • It is uncertain whether the identified interventions aimed at improving the relation between youths and the police have an effect on youths’  trust in the police. A meta-analysis shows a large effect with a significant effect estimate of 0.80 (95% CI 0.49-1.11) in favour of the interventions, but the evidence is of very low quality and we have very low confidence in the estimate.

 

The qualitative studies were performed in the USA (n=4), Great Britain (n=3) and Canada (n=1) between 1977-2005. The studies explored people’s experiences with the police in relation to the following interventions: Community policing; police officer at school; police ombudsman; police intercultural education and; family crisis intervention program. The studies were assessed to have varying methodological quality. We have analysed the available data (quotations) from four of the studies which explored experiences with community policing. The main findings from our analysis are:

 

  • Positive experiences with community policing were related to the police being available to, and building relations with, the citizens in the local community.
  • Negative experiences were related to disappointment and frustration when the police, despite the intervention, were still unavailable to the public.
  • Continuity, i.e. that the same policing staff were patrolling the same areas over time, and personal engagement in community policing, seem to be important in order to build public trust in the police.
  • Distrust in the police was pronounced in the data, and community policing as a short term intervention did not seem to change that.

 

Discussion

There is a lack of knowledge about which interventions may increase public trust in the police in a Norwegian context. Only one of the included studies was performed in a Nordic country. More than half of the studies are from the USA and generalising findings about trust in the police from a North-American to a Norwegian context may be limited; there are significant differences between the countries when it comes to, among other things, socioeconomic differences in the population, which may influence public trust in the police. Furthermore, several of the included studies are from 1970-80 and those results are likely to have limited generalisability to the Norwegian context in 2014. Even though we cannot draw any conclusions on effect of many of the included interventions, it is important to point out that this does not mean they have no effect on trust in the police. Most of the interventions in this report lack substantial evidence to draw firm conclusions about effect.

 

Conclusion

Procedural justice may have a positive effect on public trust in the police, but may have marginal or no effect on victims’ trust in the police. Only one of the included studies is from a Nordic country, it is thus a need for research about which interventions influence on public trust in the police in a Norwegian and Nordic context. There is also a lack of knowledge about which interventions may improve trust in groups assumed to have low levels of trust in the police, such as victims of crime and minority groups.

    About this publication

  • Year: 2014
  • Authors Johansen S, Borren I, Hammerstrøm KT, Nilsen W.
  • ISSN (digital): 1890-1298
  • ISBN (digital): 978-82-8121-849-9