Assessing Police Officers' Decision Making and Discretion in Making Traffic Stops in Savannah, Georgia, 2002 (ICPSR 4340)
Principal Investigator(s): Alpert, Geoffrey P., University of South Carolina; Dunham, Roger G., University of Miami; Stroshine, Meghan, Marquette University; Bennett, Katherine, Armstrong Atlantic State University; MacDonald, John, RAND
This study aimed to fill a void in the research regarding police behavior by focusing on the formation and creation of cognitive suspicion by officers. The study also examined formal actions (stops) taken by the police pursuant to that suspicion. The study was conducted using observational research methods and collected quantitative and qualitative data on officer suspicion. Data were collected by observers who rode along with patrol officers from April 2002 to November 2002. Field observers used three major data collection instruments in order to gather as much relevant information as possible from a variety of sources and in diverse situations. The Officer Form was an overall evaluation of the officer's decision-making characteristics, Suspicion Forms captured information each time an incident occurred, and a Suspect Form was a compilation of data from the citizen who had the encounter with the officer. Additional documents included informed consent forms, a card detailing the language to be used for the initial contact with citizens, and hourly activity forms. Anytime a suspicion was formed or a formal action was taken after a suspicion was formed, the observer debriefed the officer as to his or her thoughts and elicited the officer's overall rating of the encounter. Data in this collection include general demographic characteristics of the officer and the suspect, as well as the area in which the suspicion was formed. Data was also gathered regarding what led the officer to form a suspicion, and why a person was or was not stopped.
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Alpert, Geoffrey P., Roger G. Dunham, Meghan Stroshine, Katherine Bennett, and John MacDonald. ASSESSING POLICE OFFICERS' DECISION MAKING AND DISCRETION IN MAKING TRAFFIC STOPS IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA, 2002. ICPSR04340-v1. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina [producer], 2004. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2006-01-16. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR04340.v1
Persistent URL: http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR04340.v1
This study was funded by:
- United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2001-IJ-CX-0035)
Scope of Study
Subject Terms: cognitive processes, decision making, police citizen interactions, police officers, police patrol, suspect identification, traffic offenses
Smallest Geographic Unit: precinct
Geographic Coverage: Georgia, Savannah, United States
Date of Collection:
Unit of Observation: officer suspicion
Universe: Patrol officers employed by the Savannah Police Department from April 2002 through November 2002.
Data Types: observational data
Data Collection Notes:
An attempt was made to collect data from the individuals who the officers stopped. Due to the fact that the methodology used produced low response rates, the survey was unsuccessful, and data from it are not included in this collection.
Study Purpose: There has been an effort by the research community to examine issues concerning how police act and respond in general and what police do specifically when they interact with citizens. This study aims to fill a void in the research regarding police behavior by focusing on the formation and creation of cognitive suspicion by officers. The study also examined formal actions (stops) taken by the police pursuant to that suspicion. Suspicion was defined as anytime an officer became doubting, distrustful, or otherwise troubled or concerned about an individual.
Study Design: The current study was conducted using observational research methods, and it collected qualitative and quantitative data. Observers were 12 criminal justice majors and graduate students at Armstrong Atlantic State University. The observers, the Patrol Bureau Commander, four police precinct captains, and approximately 15 police officers attended a one-day training facilitated by three of the five principal investigators. The training covered the goals and objectives of the project and the specific purposes of the ride-along observations. Specific ways to conduct observations were covered, and students were instructed specifically on the accepted behavior of an observer during low-risk to high-risk activities. Field observers used three major data collection instruments in order to gather as much relevant information as possible from a variety of sources and in diverse situations. The Officer Form was an overall evaluation of the officer's decision-making characteristics, Suspicion Forms captured information each time an incident occurred, and a Suspect Form was a compilation of data from the citizen who had the encounter with the officer. Additional documents included informed consent forms, a card detailing the language to be used for the initial contact with citizens, and hourly activity forms. Beginning in April 2002 and continuing through November 2002, field observers accompanied officers in each of the four precincts and on all three shifts. Overall, 49 officers on 132 tours were observed forming 174 suspicions and making 103 stops. The student observer was introduced to the selected officer and asked the officer to read and then sign the informed consent form. The observers were told that they could utilize the first full ride for building rapport. By design, observers were told by research staff to arrange three ride-along tours with the same officer. If the observer felt that he or she were familiar with the officers decision-making style and working rules after one or more complete ride-along, the observer could discuss with the on-site coordinator whether he or she should ride with another officer. Decisions to move from one officer to another were made by the on-site coordinator. Observers attended every roll call for their shifts and rode with officers through the entire eight-hour work shift, taking notes of officers' activities and documenting each instance where the officer formed a suspicion. They were trained not to record any activities that were generated by radio calls, other officers, or situations in which their officers served as backup. In routine activities, observers watched the interactions between the officer and suspect(s), documenting what they saw and the sequence of events as they unfolded. After an encounter, the observer debriefed the officer as to his or her thoughts during encounters and elicited the officer's overall rating of the encounter. Observers were trained to make note of times when officers seemed to take notice of something but not act on it and to question the officer about his or her behavior at an opportune time. After completing detailed write-ups of ride alongs, observers would submit the forms to the on-site coordinator who would then debrief the observer and elicit further explanation, if necessary.
Sample: The sample consisted of 49 patrol officers, totaling 132 tours, on all three shifts in each of the Savannah Police Department's four precincts, who agreed to allow student researchers to ride along with them during their shifts. The captain or lieutenant on duty would randomly assign students to an officer. The captain or lieutenant was asked, for example, to select the fifth officer on the duty roster. If that officer was not assigned to patrol that shift, or was absent, then the name of the officer above and then below on the roster was selected.
Mode of Data Collection: coded on-site observation
Description of Variables: Data collected in this study include demographic information about the officer such as age, race, sex, and educational attainment. Demographic information is also included regarding the race, sex, and perceived class of the suspect. Data are also included on the differences in the above variables. Additionally, variables are included regarding the shift in which the officer was observed, what lead to the officer forming a suspicion, what lead to the officer choosing to make a stop or not, and the make, model, year, and color of any vehicle involved in the stop. Information regarding the demographics of the area in which the stop occurred is also included.
Response Rates: Not applicable
Presence of Common Scales: A Likert-type scale was used.
- Standardized missing values.
- Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.
Original ICPSR Release: 2006-01-16
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