Suspect disrespect toward the police

Michael D. Reisig, John D. McCluskey, Stephen D. Mastrofski, William Terrill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Research shows that suspects' behavior influences police officers' decisions. Those who are disrespectful to the police are more likely to have that behavior reciprocated. To date, the factors influencing whether suspects will show deference remain largely unexamined. Guided by social interactionist theory and recent developments in urban sociology, we use systematic social observations and census data to investigate. We find that elevated levels of police force can induce suspect disrespect, but more subtle forms tend to have the opposite effect. The size of the audiences observing the encounter also influences whether suspects behave disrespectfully. Hypothesized links between disinhibiting factors such as intoxicants and disrespect are confirmed. Excluding traffic encounters, suspects in disadvantaged neighborhoods are less likely to show deference. This finding helps explain why officers encountering African Americans are the targets of disrespect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-268
Number of pages28
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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