Training campus police in Black-American nonverbal behaviors : an application to police/community relations



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Police/community relations frequently involve the interaction of police officers with members of subcultural groups. Recent research findings on subcultural differences in phenomena such as nonverbal behavior and personal space measures include the finding of differences between Black-American and Anglo-American persons in these variables. These differences were incorporated into two different interview procedures in order to study their effects in the context of a standing police interview. An unselected sample of Black-American undergraduate students was interviewed-each subject being given two interviews of five minutes duration. One interview involved the use of several specified nonverbal behaviors and personal space arrangements which had been predetermined empirically to be typical of Black-Americans. The other interview included nonverbal behaviors and personal space arrangements typical of Anglo-Americans. The interviews were conducted by two uniformed, Anglo-American campus police officers who had been trained and rehearsed in the enactment of both the Black- and Anglo-American styles of interview. The content of both the interviews was the same throughout the study. Each interview was monitored visually and aurally by the experimenter. Following the interviews, each subject was given a forced-choice questionnaire on which he was asked to mark his preferences, either for the Black-American or for the Anglo-American interview. The reactions of the police officers to the experimental procedures were monitored informally during the course of the study. Upon completion of the study, the officers were questioned more specifically so as to gain information as to the external validity and the general practicability of the procedures of the study, The results from the questionnaire confirmed the hypothesis that Black-American subjects would show a significant preference for those interviews in which the policeman employed Black- American nonverbal behaviors and spatial arrangements. Kithin a social context, Black-American students preferred to be friends with and interact socially with the policeman who enacted the Black-American interview. Within the context of personal reactions, the students were more at ease with, trusted more, and thought the policeman who did the Black-American interview nicer than the other officer. Within the professional assessment context, students preferred that the policeman who did the Black-American interview handle a problem situation on campus and stop them for a traffic ticket. The informal gathering of data on the policemen's reactions to the experimental procedure showed that the training procedures were both feasible and practical. Much less certain was the amount of external validity present in what was essentially a laboratory study. Police officers' comments were filled with doubt as to the validity of the specific interviews in the field, hut they reflected little awareness of the potential of the study. The implications of this study are far-reaching for both practical applications within pollce/community relations and for further psychological research. Results support the view that training in subcultural nonverbal behaviors for policemen is both feasible and practicable. The use of this knowledge, if done wisely, could be extremely advantageous for all concerned. Further research could be aimed at the differentiation and refinement of subcultural nonverbal behaviors toward the end of practical applications in a variety of social settings.



Police, Community relations