Watching the Watchmen How Videos of Police-Citizen Encounters Influence


Staff member
Mar 20, 2019
Watching the Watchmen How Videos of Police-Citizen Encounters Influence

Recently, there has been an upsurge in highly publicized negative police-citizen encounters, contributing to the current crisis in police legitimacy. These encounters, mostly filmed and disseminated by citizens, provide a new type of vicarious experience through which the viewer can assess police-citizen interactions, potentially shaping their perceptions of the police. These recordings have sparked national conversations and protests regarding police behavior and treatment of minority citizens. An area that has received less attention, however, is what effect viewing video recordings of less contentious police-citizen interactions has on public perceptions of police. To that end, this study seeks to address the knowledge gap through experimental methodology. Using actual footage of a variety of police-citizen encounters, this study examines the impact of viewing videos of police encounters on individuals' perceptions of police legitimacy, procedural justice, estimates of police misconduct, and their willingness to cooperate with police. Also examined are the impact these videos have on support for officer body-worn cameras and willingness to film the police. The findings indicate the impact of viewing police-citizen encounters on individual perceptions and attitudes are primarily linked to the content – whether positive, negative or neutral – of the video. Specifically, positive videos depicting procedurally just encounters increased perceptions of procedural justice, decreased estimations of police misconduct and increased support for officer body-worn cameras. Viewing negative videos, however, decreased perceptions of police legitimacy, distributive fairness, and procedural justice while increasing estimations of police misconduct and willingness to film the police in the future. The effects of the video encounters on perceptions of police were not lasting and were not stable when respondents were surveyed again two weeks later. Lasting effects were found for individuals’ self-reported willingness to film the police in the future. Given these findings, the process-based model of policing should consider also incorporating digital vicarious experiences when examining factors impacting perceptions of police.


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