New study examines the factors that influence the police-community relationship


Interactions between police and the communities they serve have always been an important component to police efficacy, as the police depend on community residents to both report crimes, and cooperate with them in their investigations. However, the tension between the two groups, though not a new phenomenon, has been highlighted recently by numerous, very public violent encounters.

A new study from researchers at the PRC and MI-YVPC, published in the Journal of Community Psychology, examines this police-community relationship and the factors that influence it. Surveys distributed in Flint, Michigan (a city consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country) asked residents whether the police were respectful and trustworthy, and also asked how likely were they to report a crime, and how likely they were to interact with police in any other capacity (not related to crime).

Survey data was combined with crime data from the police department and geocoded by address to analyze the relationship between residents’ perceptions of police, crime reporting, and crime density in their neighborhoods.

The hypotheses of the study were that:

  • People who live in high crime densities are less likely to trust police
  • Perceptions of procedural justice predict the likelihood of reporting a crime to police
  • Perceptions of procedural justice predict the likelihood of socially interacting with police
  • Perceptions of procedural justice mediate the relationship between local crime density and residents’ intention to cooperate with police

After analyzing the data, all four of these hypotheses were supported. Areas with higher rates of crime had less trust in the police, and procedural justice influenced crime reporting and the likelihood of social interactions with police. Demographic factors like older age and higher education were also associated with higher likelihoods of social interactions with police and crime reporting respectively.

While other studies have linked neighborhood crime rates to attitudes towards police, this study takes into account intentions to contact police to report crime (an action vital to police efficacy) and social interactions between community and police, painting a more complete picture of their complex relationship.

Studies like this are important in forming a comprehensive understanding of how police and residents interact to either effectively or ineffectively deal with neighborhood crime and protect the safety of a community. Now more than ever information like this is needed to help those relationships that are dysfunctional and dissonant become more trusting and collaborative.