– Executive Summary

Policing requires that officers make serious choices when faced with various criminal occurrences, often with the mandate to bring order to situations towards achieving safe, non-violent outcomes. Officers often decide tactics, deployment strategies, and how to use force before and during their interactions with the public to meet these mandates. These decisions are often applied to different situations, albeit at times only slightly, from others encountered previously and are open to broad differences in understanding from the officer’s perspective. They can also require the officer to process (or be willing to process) many different forms of information during the decision-making process, all of which are susceptible to receiving varying values. Understanding potential effects on interpreting and evaluating a citizen’s mindset during police–citizen encounters may play a critical role in assessing response options, especially if the citizen’s perspective is born of honor culture. 

Research shows that cultural understandings influence citizens’ perceptions of their interactions with police and are critical in maintaining police legitimacy and minimizing the need to use force. Because of its applicability to policing and citizen interactions, understanding culture is essential for police officers. Culture guides everyday police–citizen interactions, and police behavior determines whether legitimacy falls within acceptable societal and cultural norms—mainly whether the use of force falls within reasonable bounds.[1] Additionally, how police officers carry themselves in their interactions with the public can significantly affect how citizens view and respond to their actions. Furthermore, an officer’s missteps with culture during police–citizen encounters can lead to disruptions in communication and escalations of violence, a circumstance that I suggest has much more to do with an officer’s maintenance of safety than is realized.

Understanding honor (e.g., honor culture) and its potential effects on interpreting and evaluating cultural information during interactions with police may play a critical role in assessing response options. Without this enhanced assessment, uninformed interpretations can result in flawed decision-making during the police response stage.  Research on culture’s role in police–citizen encounters and on honor culture hint at possible benefits of understanding how honor cultures and defense of reputation can affect police–citizen encounters and be critical for the decision-making process in any police–citizen interaction. Additionally, the literature suggests that understanding honor culture may help limit police use of force and fill the knowledge void needed to support the implementation of procedural justice and de-escalation strategies for police–citizen encounters. These findings also support the idea that providing officers with a sense of honor culture is likely to advance an officer’s safety by avoiding escalation, thereby reducing the need to deploy de-escalation tactics.

This thesis integrates a review of the literature on honor culture with a series of thought experiments to explore whether an officer’s knowledge of honor culture and the defense of one’s reputation could enhance police–citizen encounters. The thought experiments conceptualize the given scenario, examine developments, and extract debriefing points based on the outcomes from each of the three separate vignettes. The experiments include a criminal street gang enforcement stop, a general neighborhood disturbance, and a domestic violence incident. The scenarios demonstrate how a citizen’s honor culture attributes can affect their interactions with police, including their receptivity to policing behaviors.[2] The experiments also show how understanding honor cultures can benefit officers during police–citizen encounters.

This research demonstrates how honor cultures and the associated scripts that guide citizen behaviors can adversely affect police–citizen encounters. It suggests mitigating these harmful and occasionally dangerous outcomes by training officers more extensively in culture, specifically honor culture. Furthermore, this research intends to provoke critical thought in police officers to drive the deployment of procedural justice, de-escalation, and other well-thought-out and sound policing tactics toward more predictable, safe, and enhanced outcomes. In conclusion, this research means to reach the officer in the street by informing policymakers to drive for more extensive training in culture, specifically honor culture, and encourage police leadership to appreciate the need for implementing such instruction. In this way, police departments can more effectively motivate the street-side police practitioner to understand honor cultures and thereby enhance their police–citizen encounters and improve tactical decision-making processes.

[1] Aaron L. Pomerantz et al., “‘Badge of Honor’: Honor Ideology, Police Legitimacy, and Perceptions of Police Violence,” Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 36, no. 3 (September 2021): 473–89, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-021-09433-2, 473–74.

[2] James Robert Brown and Michael T. Stuart, “Thought Experiments,” in Philosophy, by James Robert Brown and Michael T. Stuart (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), https://doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0143.

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