This mixed methods study investigates how American and Canadian front-line police officers are responding to policing's new visibility, which implicates citizen-generated mobile device and CCTV footage and concomitant online interconnectivity and social media discourse, and to intensified scrutiny of officers' actions by a more critical public audience. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected from 3,660 rank-and-file officers at 23 police agencies across Canada and throughout the State of New York.
This study finds that a substantial majority of today's rank-and-file officers in the 23 jurisdictions across both countries (72%) are intentionally reducing, or eliminating, proactive interactions in the community, in response to officers' perceptions that such discretionary initiatives are unnecessarily risky. Little variation was found across location and agency variables (country, region, and police agency size) or across individual officers' demographic variables (gender and race/ethnicity). For individual officers, the decision to practice de-policing and any subsequent intensification in an officer's de-policing practices, is associated with the accumulation of negative police-citizen interactions over an officer's years of front-line police service. Influence from the rank-and-file police subculture also plays a significant role in contributing to these widespread risk-averse practices.
For many officers, de-policing is connected with attitudes toward, and avoidance of, individuals perceived as presenting with mental health issues and/or a 'non-traditional' sexual orientation, and, even more strongly, in relation to persons perceived by front-line officers as visible racialized minorities. Implications of the methodology and findings are discussed, including those in relation to the author's role as a 'pracademic' researcher, to the current and future situation of policing in North America, and to the author's efforts to enter into public debates regarding today's policing.