Mummolo Findings About Police Responsiveness Have Important Implications for Reform Policy

Dec. 13, 2017

Jonathan Mummolo's study of police officers' responsiveness to the scrutiny of their supervisors, published in the Journal of Politics, suggests that rules and supervision can be effective at reforming police behavior.

          Abstract: High-profile incidents of police misconduct have led to widespread calls for law enforcement reform. But prior studies cast doubt on whether police commanders can control officers, and offer few policy remedies because of their focus on potentially immutable officer traits like personality. I advance an alternative, institutional perspective and demonstrate that police officers—sometimes characterized as autonomous—are highly responsive to managerial directives. Using millions of records of police-citizen interactions alongside officer interviews, I evaluate the impact of a change to the protocol for stopping criminal suspects on police performance. An interrupted time series analysis shows the directive produced an immediate increase in the rate of stops producing evidence of the suspected crime. Interviewed officers said the order signaled increased managerial scrutiny, leading them to adopt more conservative tactics. Procedural changes can quickly and dramatically alter officer behavior, suggesting a reform strategy sometimes forestalled by psychological and personality-driven accounts of police reform.

Professor Mummolo's work is profiled by Princeton University in Police officers highly motivated by supervisor scrutiny. Jonathan Mummolo is assistant professor of politics and public affairs and a CSDP faculty associate.