The issue of police ethics and decision making have always been a concern to the leaders of police and academic scholars. Previous studies have focused on the perception of police officers, but very few studies have concentrated on the knowledge of young people on the issue of police ethical decision-making. This research paper aims to identify the perceptions from a group of college students who are majoring in criminal justice. Police officers have always been considered to be public servants and entrusted with protecting citizens and the duty of enforcing justice. Police officer's everyday duties are determined by how strong or weak they are in making personal decisions and sound judgment. Also, a majority of the decisions are made outside the supervision of a credible supervisor, and therefore, loopholes and mistakes are inevitable. Ideally, the lack of constant supervision is likely to lead to gross misconduct and unethical behavior.
The wrong behaviors by the police will, therefore, be seen and identified by the general public and as a result, will lead to public scrutiny while affecting the citizen’s attitudes towards the police (Dowler & Sparks, 2008). The negative behaviors are typically emanated from numerous factors including previous experience with a law enforcement officer.
Researches in Criminal Justice System, Community Policing, criminology and in Policing have shown that Police and Law enforcement agencies have been marred by stereotyping and discrimination. The main discrimination is either by ethnic grouping, class, race and color. Chaiken(2016) notes that in The United States of America there have been cases of Criminalization of the African-American, Latino and the citizens of the Asian origin.
The African-Americans and the Latinos have largely been criminalized highly on drugs and related crimes (Bonino, 2016). Statistics show that the people of color have a high probability to be incarcerated for drugs and robbery crimes than the whites. In American streets, the images overrunning the streets by menacing gangbangers with shaved heads, tattoos and baggy pants are indicators that it is hard enough to separate the black youths and crime.
The Latinos makes up to 34% of the total inmates in the state prisons while the Africa Americans make up 36% of the of all 20 to 29-years-olds in the U.S. of the age group that commits the majority of crimes (Chaiken, 2016) . Comparing to the whites who are about 5% in the criminal justice, it is clear that the criminalization of the blacks and Latinos is still high. The data also shows that even in 21st century, the African-American and the Latinos continue to face racial discriminations in criminalization and disparities in arrest, sentencing and incarceration.
In the most recent past there has been reports of the challenges that Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim have been facing on the hands of the officers and especially at the airports and in planes (Bonino, 2016). The discrimination and criminalization creates a stereotype of terror not only by the police but also to the general public citizens. In the replicate the police conduct to the Muslim and Muslims-affiliates has been questionable and this has created a negative perception towards the police by the Muslims and most significantly the Muslim students in the United States.
One significant consequence that has been stated by scholars is that it often leads to lack of trust and confidence by the public towards the police (Callanan & Rosenberger, 2011). Therefore, it is important to study the law enforcer’s misconduct and its general effect on the public’s perception. As a result, future implementation and adoption of effective policies will help rebuild the already destroyed bonds with the general community.
In the year 2016, there a great outcry and demonstrations all over the United States by the African –American and civil rights over discriminatory shooting of the Black men. The “Black Live Matter,” demos following the shooting dead five black US Police officers in Dallas and two further shooting of black men by the law enforcements (Duffy, 2016). These incidences further messed up the perception of the public towards the law enforcements officers.
Statement of the Problem
Gross misconduct by police officers often results to a negative view of the public towards the law enforcers. As a result, there is little satisfaction and trust by the community in the police. Numerous researchers have studied the predictors of adverse negative public perceptions through very few have studied the knowledge of criminal justice undergraduate students. Also, previous studies have failed to determine the influence of criminal justice degree and how it helps shape student’s perception towards gross misconduct. Based on the limitations of previous research on the effects of criminal justice education as a significant issue there has been the need for new research. The perception of students majoring in criminal justice is of paramount importance because the students will in future become law enforcers. An example of gross misconduct by the police is where they treat the Black Americans and the Latinos differently from the Whites.
Purpose of the Study
Numerous studies have already proved that multiple variables influence an individual’s attitude towards police misconduct. This study will examine the existent variables that affect the perception of a student on gross misconduct of the police enforcers acting differently with African-Americans as opposed to the whites. The study has theorized that a student’s major does influence his or her perception. For qualitative and scientific analysis the research attempts to investigate the public perception to the police and law enforcement agencies in regard to the generic dimensions of the quality services which includes: Attentiveness, reliability, responsiveness, competence, manners, fairness and integrity. The other imagery dimension under scrutiny in this study is the police-specific dimension of the quality service which include the stop and searches, arrests, and or use of force. The course being considered is that of criminal justice.
Numerous police departments across the globe have always tried to professionalize their organizations. With an aim of presenting a positive public image, the law enforcement agencies have always tried to cultivate loyalty and integrity (McMains, 2009). However, studies have stated that many factors contribute to different perspectives by the public on the police departments. The prevalence of misconduct where police treat whites differently from the blacks has specifically raised a lot of questions. (Wolfe & Piquero, 2011) define police misconduct as any issue that leads to the filing of a formal complaint or an internal affairs investigation. According to the researchers, the misconduct can result in disciplinary charges against an officer. However, based on the fast pace that police work is growing many police officers are given an opportunity to commit unethical behavior and bend rules.
Treating people differently by the police is an issue of gross misconduct based on the definition of police misconduct (Wolfe & Piquero, 2011). Law enforcers are responsible for maintaining order and justice in the entire society without being discriminative or being influenced by personal motives or preferences. Citizens and more the educated or learning students have begun identifying the loopholes that exist in the police force. A student's major such as in criminal justice enables them to have a negative perception of the police when they are seen discriminating against citizens. As a result, it has become necessary to study the things that can be improved in the police force.
Ethics and Police Discretion
Ethics have been defined as the ability to choose between what is considered morally right or wrong (Conti & Nolan, 2005). It has also been argued that ethics is a broad concept that is connected with integrity and morals. (Stout, 2011) holds that there are two primary concepts of police ethics, honesty, and integrity. As such, the two concepts are the building blocks of every profession. Cops have a lot of decision-making to do while on duty and therefore the decisions they make on how much a police officer is ethical. The decision of discriminating against an African-American will depend on the moral uprightness of a law enforcer.
Students Perception of the Police
The general public holds varying opinions on the police leading to general perceptions. However, existing literature does not measure the level of college students and how their significant affects their public perception. The existing research has stipulated that several factors influence a student’s perception towards the police force. A good example is a study by (Williams & Nofziger, 2003) that maintains race and gender influence the student's perception of police enforcers. Other studies have stated that age alone cannot change a student’s perception though others contend that the attitudes become more favorable with age. (Williams & Nofziger, 2003) stipulated that three concepts result in a change of a students’ perception of the police. One concept was a student’s relationship that lies between him and law enforcement. The relationship could have given rise to victimization, negative experiences and offense history. The second was sociological factors and issues that arise from relationships with authority figures. A struggle between authority figures predisposes students to a negative perception of the police. A third concept was one where issues occur in an individual with his or her studies. The struggle may often result in varying perceptions of the police. This study aims at isolating all other factors and hypothesize that a student’s major does influence a student’s perception of the police acting differently with African Americans than whites (gross misconduct).
Since criminal justice students from a firm foundation of policing, it is important to analyze their perception. Moreover, studying the factors that are associated with student’s perception is important to gauge the level of effectiveness of the criminal justice degree to equip the students with an ethical approach to policing. The findings of this study will provide professionals with significant implications for future policies that are targeted at promoting a professional police officer. This chapter provides a framework for a critical analysis of a student’s attitude towards police misconduct based on a major in school.
The research design is planning for an investigation to obtain answers to questions being researched (Kothari, 2004). Descriptive survey research design was used in this study. The design gave adequate information in data collection used in evaluation for decision-making in the area of study. This will apply to this research as it involves large data collection and analysis used to make conclusions.
Orodho (2008), presented a variable is an entity either quantitative or qualitative which interacts to bring about an outcome. In this study the researcher identifies the independent and dependent variables that will be used to carry out data analysis and draw conclusions. For the purpose qualitative analysis the police perception outcome will be taken as the dependent variable while the sampled number of the respondents will be the independent variable.
The study was carried out in the United States, in the select Universities and Colleges. The institutions were selected at random to avoid skewness of ethnicity, race, social classification and religious affiliations. The sampled universities had a regional balance and the states were also chosen at random.
This study focused on students who major in criminal justice or other non-criminal justice majors such as forensic science and others. The participants provided value to the study by giving statistical differences across academic majors. The number of participants were 250 undergraduate students where 200 were students majoring in criminal justice and the rest of other non-criminal justice majors. The study examines students from one university and colleges and analyzes the findings from blacks and non-blacks.
Sample and Sampling Procedure
The sampling used in this research is a compiled list of all the undergraduate courses in criminal justice and others that are not related to criminal justice. The strategy produced a total of forty courses. After compilation, Convenience sampling was adopted to select twenty criminal justice courses. Researchers such as (Peterson & Merunka, 2013) stipulate that using convenience sampling results to problems of generalization to non-student samples. The simple random sampling technique method was used for 250 respondents which represents 25% of the target population of 1000 respondent students. This concurs with Mugenda and Mugenda (1999) who recommends a target sample size of 20-30% of the total population to be used for purpose of research. However, they maintain that no research has ever refuted the conclusions of such studies. Lower and upper courses were selected to establish whether there exists a difference in the levels of academic maturation.
In this study, the sample size was two hundred and fifty (250) respondents. The survey tool used in the study attempted to capture various necessary data required in the study. This included the age, gender, state of origin/international students, religion, race and whether criminal justice students or non-criminal justice.
The data collection Instruments
The study used three research instruments that included stratified questionnaires filled by the respondents. The research also employed short oral interviews. The other significant tool used was the observation on the reactions of the respondents during the oral interview. Micro-expressions were sought from the faces and bodily movements during the approach, introductions and the actual questioning.
According to (McMillan & Schumacher, 2001), a questionnaire is a set of questions or statements that assess responses given by respondents. The study used questionnaires because they are cheap and easy to score. The questionnaire was administered to both the Criminal Justice students and non-criminal justice students. The questionnaire had both closed, and open-ended questions addressing specific objective (Orodho, 2008). Open-ended questions allowed the respondent to explain ideas, giving suggestions freely while in close-ended questions the respondent chose the response from the choices given which saved a lot of time and the response was direct when analyzing, making coding and this made the analysis easier and convenient.
Piloting was done among the researchers colleagues, three students were interviewed and three were given questionnaires. The questionnaires from the piloting were not in the final study, chosen to represent each category by administering questionnaires to the respondents and the results analyzed. This helped the researcher to check for unclear questions if left unanswered, insufficient space for answering, the wrong phrasing of questions and if the analytic technology used was appropriate, and where such errors were detected, the researcher made the necessary corrections.
According to Babbie and Mouton, (2008) validity is the measure of degree an instrument measures to give actual concept. McMiIlan and Schumacher (2001) argued that if sampling techniques are refined continuously throughout the data collection period, its validity will be increased. The questionnaire and interview guide was given to the supervisor to examine, and the opinion on validity was considered. A pilot study was done to eliminate irrelevant question, and if there were any corrections, it was included in the final copy.
According to Bless and Higson-Srnith (2005), reliability is the ability of an instrument to produce the same score when used frequently. The reliability of the research instrument was undertaken using test pre-test method. The test pre-test method measures the consistency of a research instrument in a given period. The method was suitable for this study as the researcher carried out the pre- test that was required. The research instrument was administered to respondents two times. After the first administration, sometimes (two weeks) was allowed to elapse so as to eliminate remembering responses given in the first round. The scores on the two sets of measures were then grouped into two; - even numbers and odd numbers respectively. The ranking of the score was done after calculating their differences. The found scores were correlated using Karl Pearson’s coefficient correlation formula (r).
Where r= Reliability coefficient
n = Number of respondents
x= Total scores of test administration
y= Total score of retest administration
Data in this study was collected with the intention of measuring student’s attitude towards police misconduct while collecting demographic information through a perception survey. To obtain a representative sample, the students were given the sample and instructed orally how to finish the survey. An oral explanation was also given for its intended purpose, and they made to understand that failing to participate in the survey would not result in penalties. The respondents identity was confined and their confidentiality guaranteed. Students would complete the survey and give it to the instructor. In case the survey became uncomfortable, students were allowed to cease their participation. After all, participants had finished the survey instrument; the surveys were collected and used in the research.
According to Kombo et al. (2006), data analysis varies with the purpose of the research, research design and the conclusion made by the researcher. The researcher checked all questionnaires if they were duly completed and did the coding. Analysis of the data was done using SPSS program version 20. Each objective was systematically used to analyze the data. In qualitative data, the closed-ended items in the questionnaires were processed by coding and data entered into the computer and processed in a descriptive analysis. The study utilizes several statistical techniques such as descriptive analysis, logistical regression models and correlation matrices. The regression models are used to determine the predictor variables. Regression analysis is also used to provide an evaluation of previously discussed research questions. Descriptive analyzes are vital in this research to establish whether other variations exist in the perception of a student across demographic categories such as age or student classification.
Variant Dimensions Adopted for the Study
The main objective of this study was to investigate and examine existent variables that affect the perception of a student on gross misconduct of the police enforcers acting differently with African-Americans as opposed to the whites. The main aim of the study was to establish the racial image of the police and the consequences of the relationship between the police and the general public. Therefore the study adopted the following variants as the research dimensions to quantify the perception of the students towards the police. Such dimensions could be generic or police-specific. The study therefore quantified the police attentiveness, reliability, responsiveness, competence (professionalism), manners (respect to public), fairness (indiscrimination) and integrity. The data was captured in the likert scale coded to fit in a rage of 0-5 rating scale. Similarly, police-specific misconduct test against racial discriminations in criminalization and disparities in arrest and searches was also conducted in a similar rating scale.
The findings were obtained from three primary avenues. The first avenue was the descriptive analyses that gave a general picture of the sample characteristics. The second was a comparison of means analyses that identified the independent variables that differ in relation to dependent variables. The third avenue was multivariate analyses that were conducted to assess the variables that are associated with the dependent variable. The participating students were mostly females (60%, n=150), non-white (52%, n=130) with a grade point of 2.5% and higher (87%, n=218). The non-white students reported that there was police misconduct on treatment of white and African Americans (t=3.37, p˂.01).
A huge portion of the study reported high agreement of students who were majoring in various academic disciplines (74%, n=185) and were not seniors (57%, n=143). There was no significant difference in perception along academic majors. However, there was a difference in perception between the two levels of academic maturation (t=2.23, p˂0.05). Non-seniors maintained that police were involved with high levels of gross misconduct while the seniors maintained that the police were not so involved in gross misconducts. According to the study, numerous of the respondents agreed that there is a strong agreement (52%, n=130) that unethical decision often results in a negative perception of a community.
The best fit regression analysis resulted to several conclusions, the dependent variable was ‘Police gross misconduct and discrimination is increasing among today’s police officers’. 19% of the total variance can be explained by examining six independent variables. Results showed that student’s perception on discretionary powers (β=0.28, p˂0.01) is the most influential predictor. The students who agreed with the influence of discretion influences unethical conduct of the police stated that racial profiling is a growing issue. The results formulated that student classification was the least significant (β=0.15, p˂0.05).
Conclusion and Recommendations
The findings of the study showed accounts of variation in the perception of the police by the students both who are criminal justice and non-criminal justice students. The study did not focus on the personal experiences with the police or law enforcement officers, it merely dwelt at the perceptions either created by friends, family, communities, journals and the media paint images police images. This therefore eliminated prejudice, emotional perception and attitude and represented the true image of the police service that is out there in the public domain. Further, the information gathered created a general assessment of the police performance (professionalism/competence), fair treatment, police support to the communities and individual citizens (responsiveness and reliability) and the police integrity.
From the ongoing analyzes it is evident that there is an open attitude towards police especially on matters pertaining fairness. There exist elements of discrimination by the police based on race and particularly between the African-American and the White- American. The trust of the police by the students is often compromised by the concerns of the standards regarding use of force, brutality and discriminatory to the minorities in the United States. Majority of the responses though, indicated that the there is a generic relative good performance in the law enforcements agencies and the officers have strived to maintain ethics, professionalism, and support to the general public in their service delivery. Nonetheless, the police remain last in integrity test. This, however, does not completely tint the image of the police since most of the respondents feel that the police are doing enough in reduction of the crime and making the neighbourhoods safer.
The research plays a very significant role in the field of Social Science. Through the research, future implementation and adoption of effective policies will rebuild the police force to correct the loopholes on racial discrimination and other gross misconducts. Also, the need to teach ethics in schools will be emphasized especially with majors that are connected to the police force. The study provides vital information for criminal justice academia and professionals.
The study has several limitations that might influence the generalization of its findings. The study only took the data from a group of students who were enrolled in one academic year and only in one university. Also, the results are only a representative of students who attended classes on a particular day when the surveys were given. Though the limitations threaten the findings, the study provides results that are significant in the criminal justice education and is helpful in expanding the professionalism of policing. That is, though the study contains limits of generalization, it also provides meaningful information.
This study provides several opportunities for future research. It is necessary that future research uses a larger sample compared to the sample of this study. Researchers should also increase their scope of study by picking samples from many universities. Other future populations should also involve students majoring in other disciplines even the non-criminal justice fields. The studies might also include factors such as socio-economic status of the respondents to help explain findings of research and future findings. The study also recommends further researches on the community partnership in community policing with the security and law enforcements agencies as the next frontier in the police and ultimate safety in the neighbourhoods.
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