My paper on police culture, danger, and normalized deviance is finally out. TLDR: Police culture’s emphasis on danger encourages officer behavior that actively harms police and the public.… Summary 🧵:
I argue police are socialized into a cultural frame—the danger imperative—that encourages a persistent preoccupation with violence and officer safety. This frame engenders safety-enhancing behaviors that, in fact, harm the public AND police.
“Warrior” policing, excessive force, the blue wall of silence are tied to police culture’s focus on solidarity against external threats. But might the same culture encourage behavior that also harms police? Does police culture actually harm EVERYONE in the name of safety?
Across 3 US departments, I show how the danger imperative is constructed and perpetuated through officers’ policy compliant and policy deviant efforts to ensure their survival.
1. Constructing the danger imperative.
A. Repeated exposure to graphic videos of officer injury and death. Some are legendary—the horrific ‘98 murder of Dep. Dinkheller is shown across the country. One officer I spoke to recalled the sound of gurgling blood.
B. Rehearsing threat and violence. This can be virtual with rapidly advancing simulation technology also used by the military. Pictured here, an immersive Virtra system used by some of the country’s largest departments.
More ubiquitous, officers’ flesh and blood scenario training emphasizes the steep price of failure on the street. One academy instructor explained that recruits learn, “Everybody is trying to murder you.” Guns. Knives. Fights. Ambushes. Always one mistake from disaster.
2. Survival strategies
A. Policy compliant strategies. These abide by dept. policy. Ex: Officers commonly touch the trunk/taillight of cars they stop. Why?
a. Ensure the trunk is closed and prevent an ambush. One officer even suggested it was to prevent attack dogs jumping out at him.
One officer told me that the probability of being attacked “ low but that's how we're trained. We train for the worst‐case scenario; we don't train to stop granny. We train to expect someone to have a gun, to try and hurt us.”
b. Leave a fingerprint. Should an officer be shot/killed, investigators could tie the vehicle back to the murdered officer. That way, a suspect can be brought to justice.

Touching a trunk is low stakes—unlikely to cause injury/death.

Other behaviors are higher stakes.
B. Policy deviant strategies: these behaviors contravene written policy in the name of keeping officers safe from violence. Behaviors include:
a. not wearing a seatbelt, even when driving at high speeds.
Officers justify this behavior on the grounds that it could get hung up on their duty belt, preventing them from exiting their car to address a threat. Others mentioned that the belt could hinder their ability to draw their firearm from its holster.
b. Unauthorized emergency driving and code 2 1/2

To make matters worse, officers also ignore or bend policies designed to restrict high-speed driving and prevent catastrophic accidents.
i. Unauthorized emergency (code 3) driving: officers drive at high speeds to reach a call or provide backup to another officer without required authorization. Such policies exist to minimize traffic accidents by controlling the # of officers speeding to a call.
ii. Code 2 1/2 is more subtle. Officers will drive at high speeds and selectively use lights and sirens to clear traffic in front of them and speed up travel. They don’t keep them on the whole time they’re speeding. Why?
In-group solidarity. Officers’ provide for their collective safety. If it were ME, wouldn’t I want other officers to get to me quickly? They tailor their siren and light usage to mask their deviance and still fulfill the collective expectation of speedy mutual aid.
3. Consequences
A. Officers and citizens are hurt or killed by such normalized deviance. One analysis found that high speed driving has claimed thousands of civilians and injured many more.…
Traffic deaths are also a major contributor to police mortality and serious injury. These deaths, and the deaths of bystanders, can be prevented. Police culture frustrates efforts to do so.…
I conclude with consideration of the danger imperative as a mechanism for racial bias to work through officers. Police culture amplifies the perceived likelihood of violence. And officers focus on minority nhoods equated to crime and violence.…
In turn, police primed for threat interact more often with PoC—especially men—who are more likely to be perceived as a threat. Inequitable police violence is a natural consequence of this combination of culture, behavior, and structure.…
More work required to distill the causal power of police culture on behavior & inequality. Officer-level variation is murkier still. But it’s clear culture matters. Police culture and its emphasis on violence is a life and death affair. It harms everyone, including police.
Accepted pre-print here if you’re paywalled: Thank you to everyone who helped me push through 4 years of rejection on this one 🙏🏾

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