Asymmetry in the impact of encounters with police

Wesley G Skogan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

477 Scopus citations


This article examines the impact of personal experience on popular assessments of the quality of police service. Following past research, it addresses the influence of personal and neighbourhood factors on confidence in the police. It then focuses on the additional impact of positive and negative personal experiences with the police. Several studies of police encounters with the public have noted that the relationship between how people recall being treated and their general confidence in the police may be asymmetrical. At its worst, the police may get essentially no credit for delivering professional service, while bad experiences can deeply influence peoples’ views of their performance and even legitimacy. This proposition is tested using survey data on police-initiated and citizen-initiated contacts with police in Chicago. The findings indicate that the impact of having a bad experience is four to fourteen times as great as that of having a positive experience, and the coefficients associated with having a good experience—including being treated fairly and politely, and receiving service that was prompt and helpful—were not statistically different from zero. Another section of the article replicates this finding using surveys of residents of seven other urban areas located in three different countries. The article concludes that this is bad news indeed for police administrators intent on solidifying their support among voters, taxpayers and the consumers of police services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-126
Number of pages28
JournalPolicing and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006


  • Impact Police and Citizen Contacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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