Podcast: Patil (2018). “The Public Doesn’t Understand”: The Self-reinforcing Interplay of Image Discrepancies and Political Ideologies in Law Enforcement


– UT Austin McCombs School of Business


Natalya Alonso – UBC Sauder School of Business

Siyu Yu – NYU Stern

Article link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0001839218783988

Listen below to the September installment of the ASQ Blog Podcast Series:

Transcript of the podcast:

Natalya: Hello ASQ blog listeners and readers. I’m Natalya, a PhD candidate at Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Before we get started, I would like to thank my colleague Siyu Yu from NYU Stern who couldn’t be here today but helped prepare these questions. Today I’ll be speaking with Assistant Professor Shefali Patil from UT-Austin about her recent ASQ article “The public doesn’t understand:” The self-reinforcing interplay of image discrepancies and political ideologies in law enforcement. Thanks for joining us Shefali.

Shefali: Thanks for having me Natalya.

Natalya: We have a lot to talk about so let’s jump right in. I would love to start by understanding how you first became interested in this research question.

Shefali: Sure. I’ve always been interested in issues of accountability and monitoring systems back from my dissertation time. I think it’s one of those stories where things happen in life and opportunities kind of come up and you grab them.

I had just joined recent faculty at UT, one of the senior professors had an executive education student who happened to be a sheriff at a department in Florida who wanted him to come and do research over there, of course he was senior and was like, “Ah, no thank you, I’ve got a lot of things to do.” So he sent the junior person [Shefali] over to Florida. The police chief was very welcoming but he was talking about the regular things, about dissatisfaction and losing his police officers to another local city and not being able to pay them as much, etc. and I was like “Okay,” like not really getting into the core of what I was interested in, except he said that two weeks later he would be implementing body worn cameras.

It was one of those things where I kind of jumped, I was like “Oh wow, that’s fascinating” because it flows right into my wheelhouse. So from then on I took advantage of that opportunity. Then Ferguson happened and that was obviously a very sad event that happened but for some reason, it’s just like everything kind of blew up in the law enforcement arena at that time with the protest, with the emergence of Black Lives Matter. So all of these events were happening that just made it very timely and I realized there is an actual phenomenon out there and I could try to apply my research interests to investigate that phenomenon.

Natalya: Interesting. So it sounds like the research question was more driven by phenomenon then?

Shefali: I think it was a mixture of both phenomenon and practical opportunity. So what I was seeing was that after the protest, there was a lot of criticism of police officers. I had been interested in image discrepancy work – basically how people think others view them. I was like “This is probably not a very good time for law enforcement.” Of course, depending on what side of the political spectrum you are on, some would view the criticism of police officers to be extreme and others would view it to be extremely justified and not sufficient. I come from a police officer family, I myself have never been a police officer, but I can imagine their jobs are actually incredibly difficult and it’s one of those things where a few bad apples tarnish the entire profession. We witnessed that in academia where a few faculty members who made up data and just start to tarnish the entire public image of the profession itself. I was seeing that kind of phenomenon and the things that are going on and I wanted to investigate how is that kind of criticism, this deep feeling that the public who you serve on a daily basis may not totally understand the difficulties of their job. How does that affect their end behaviors?

Natalya: Right. Really interesting. I understand it can be quite difficult to gain access to these organizations, particularly institutions like the police, so what advice do you have for students trying to gain entry into organizational samples?

Shefali: Yeah, so ever since Ferguson happened, I set up a Google newsfeed. I did a keyword search of law enforcement and body worn cameras and I myself wasn’t studying that [body worn cameras] at that time, my manuscript uses body camera footage data, which we’ll talk about a little bit later, but that wasn’t the core of my research. I was interested more in officer perceptions but they were implementing body cameras, so I was trying to give them what would be a helpful cover story. I guess to be like “Hey, I could investigate the effects of your body cameras and also collect survey data and ask officers other questions that I’m also interested in.” So I did this for over the course of a year. Talking about the practical stuff, it’s the beginning of my tenure clock, right? So I needed to collect massive amounts of data. For an entire year every single time a law enforcement agency popped up on the news feeds saying they are implementing body cameras, immediately that night I emailed the agency asking them if they would be interested in collaborating on research. So over the course of the year I must have emailed close to two to three agencies per night so just thousands over the course of a year only to get about a sample of six to seven police agencies at the end of that. So my advice on getting agencies is be resilient and just constantly email organizations. It’s become a little bit easier because now I have a track record so I could actually send them a publication and be like “This is the work I’m doing.” So now it is easier to gain access than it was when I was just starting out but that was the process that I went through.

Natalya: Interesting. You alluded to this just now but your first study is such a great example of combining multiple sources of data. What was the process of conducting that study like?

Shefali: So I had collected the survey data first from the police officers and both of those agencies. So some agencies have a lot tighter regulations on giving out body camera footage than others. So even if under the Freedom of Information Act you are completely allowed access, the actual process behind getting hold of the cameras can vary by state. So I had the survey data and for me I always have to link it to some kind of performance outcomes. Self report is fine for a potential replication but for your main study, you really want to have objective performance data. So it was a matter of just inquiring. I had a good relationship with these Police Chiefs. They seemed very interested in the types of questions I was asking. So for them, they basically turned me over to their legal departments within the agencies and those legal departments worked with me to give me access. These are pretty big agencies, so I sent them the list of officers who had already completed the survey and they basically randomly selected body camera videos for those officers. So they weren’t giving me all the footage. They were giving me for the set of officers who had actually participated in my study, so it was easier for them. Anytime you can try to make it easier for the organization, they do appreciate that.

Natalya: So do you see any other opportunities to use the Freedom of Information Act for researchers to collect data?

Shefali: Well there are a lot of monitoring technologies that are being used, but of course it’s limited to the public sphere. So I’m not too sure how many opportunities there are to obtain that kind of footage, versus let’s say, Amazon, Amazon uses new monitoring devices for its warehouse people and things like that and those are very intense monitoring devices. So that’s where the limitations are going to be, but in the public sphere, potentially in hospitals if they’re not privately owned. So those kinds of things that potentially fall under the Freedom of Information Act present some potential research opportunities.

Natalya: I see. At what point did you decide ASQ was a good outlet for this research?

Shefali: Actually it was the first outlet that I chose. What attracted me to ASQ is the theoretical big picture idea. My paper is only three hypotheses and there’s no limitation on how many hypotheses you need to have, but those three hypotheses represented a very big picture idea at the end. It was that there are certain types of police officers who do well under this scrutiny and there are certain types of police officers that don’t. Over time, specifically officers with these ideologies, you could abstract from my findings that over time you are going to have a self-reinforcing cycle where these image discrepancies where the police are on one side and the public on the other, you are going to continue to have this for these reasons. So what I learned as a junior faculty is sometimes the simple, where you can get your hypotheses and your findings but make a very big kind of statement, those are the best and ASQ allows for that type of research. It’s that big picture. My political ideology measures are actually not even just liberalism and conservativism, they were criminal justice measures. That’s what I love about ASQ, it just allows you to pull from so many disciplines. So by the end, I was drawing from criminal justice theories to organizational behavior to social psychology and that’s why I also love the journal. It is interdisciplinary, they are really at the core of that.

Natalya: Super interesting. What advice do you have for students hoping to submit a manuscript to ASQ then?

Shefali: It is that big picture idea. It takes several iterations of that abstraction from your core hypotheses. Other journals are more focused on the types of survey items that you use or why you used this measure. ASQ is very different. So in the beginning, your introduction I think needs to be very clear in the theoretical implications of what you’re doing. So demonstrating what you are abstracting from your concrete findings is fairly helpful.

Natalya: Is there anything in particular that we should be thinking about during the study design process that’s different for an ASQ study?

Shefali: I think one of the things is access to unique sites and unique ways of measuring things. I think having body camera footage and then rating police officers’ behaviors, I don’t think there’s another management paper out there that does this. There are potentially in other journals, experiments on body cameras, on the effects of body cameras, those certainly exist but to use body camera footage and monitoring technologies to actually code behaviors, that’s probably totally new. Matt Beane has published a paper on robotic surgery that’s also the forefront of new technological advances, a completely different context. So I think in terms of study design, the newer, like “Hey, this is the way this new technology exposes human behavior and this is the way that we as social scientists can come in and study it.” I think that just benefits.

Natalya: Wonderful. So lastly, I would love to hear about what’s next. So what additional research questions has this project spurred for you?

Shefali: Well, a ton. So on one side, I think when the ASQ got media attention, a lot of the reporters were asking me about what law enforcement agencies can do. In the next papers I’m trying to address: What can organizations do? So I do have a paper looking at managing employees’ autonomy dealing with these kind of public image discrepancies. Giving them more or less autonomy can be beneficial. I am also looking at the body camera, an actual experiment on the effects of body cameras. So that’s all in progress slash under review research. So anything that basically looks at the effects of the technology itself on human behavior.

Natalya: Okay. Well, thank you so much for this interview, it was wonderful.

Shefali: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Featured image: “Prison Uniform with Body Camera”by JobsForFelonsHub is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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