Cop Wisdom and the Democratic Consequences of Citizen–State Interactions

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(5) 857 –877
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211046594
Cop Wisdom and the
of Citizen–State
Peter Stanley Federman1
The existing literature on citizen–state interactions lacks variation, and new
research must be conducted to better understand the consequences of
such interactions. Using the theoretical frame of cop wisdom, defined as
strategies that citizens change or adapt based on the circumstances of their
previous interactions with police, interactions between individuals and police
officers are interrogated utilizing the 2015 Police-Public Contact Survey.
The existence of cop wisdom within these encounters is demonstrated,
along with findings that consider the impact of race, class, and citizenship on
aggressive behavior in police–citizen encounters.
policing, cop wisdom, citizen–state interactions
In a commentary on the state of current research on citizen–state interactions,
Jakobsen et al. (2019) note that there has been a deficiency in the variety of
research on citizen–state interactions1 in public administration. This is
1Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Corresponding Author:
Peter Stanley Federman, Assistant Professor, Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and
Environmental Affairs, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 801 W. Michigan
Street, BS 4156, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA.
1046594AAS0010.1177/00953997211046594Administration & SocietyFederman
858 Administration & Society 54(5)
undoubtedly correct, given that while the articles referenced in the commen-
tary do provide excellent examples of these interactions from the areas of
welfare, digital information, contracting, and citizen satisfaction with regard
to both performance and ethical behavior, they lack a satisfactory entry
regarding the outcomes of specific interactions between the public and one of
the most common types of street-level bureaucrat. This missing category
consists of those in the public safety sector, such as police officers, firefight-
ers, or emergency medical personnel. Since these interactions are among the
most frequent that citizens have with government officials, with a reported
53.5 million police contacts alone per year in the United States in 2015
(United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2018), a study of such interactions will allow us to not only
address questions that consider citizen satisfaction with public safety service
but also how those interactions might impact citizen’s relationship to and
with government (Brodkin & Majmundar, 2010; Epp et al., 2014; Neshkova
& Guo, 2011; Thomas & Streib, 2003; Van Slyke & Roch, 2004; Vigoda-
Gadot, 2006).
To do so, a particular element of the citizen–police interaction is studied.
Known as cop wisdom, it is, broadly defined, the strategies that citizens who
interact frequently with police may change or adapt based on the circum-
stances of their previous interactions, utilizing their knowledge of police
interactions, and to avoid further interactions with the police (Stuart, 2016a).
However, given what we know about the circumstances of individuals who
are subject to high-frequency contact with police, it can be difficult or near
impossible to completely avoid contact with law enforcement. Cop wisdom,
as defined further in the following section, is a common trait among those
who interact frequently with the police, but as of yet has not been assessed in
an empirical way so as to determine the validity of the concept for research in
policing. Given what is already known about the importance of citizen per-
ceptions of and encounters with police, this characteristic should be exam-
ined not only as a strategy to avoid contact with police, but in how it might
play out in the context of an actual interaction between a police officer and
citizen. This research takes a first step toward that analysis, exploring certain
behaviors connected to Stuart’s idea of cop wisdom, and measuring the likeli-
hood of their occurrence within police–citizen interactions. Although the
avoidance behavior described by Stuart is not considered here, the data-gath-
ering and coping techniques described are measured utilizing the 2015
Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS) from the Department of Justice.
With nearly 1 million sworn police officers in the United States as per the
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statistics for 2018, thousands of citizens
come into contact with the police each day. From traffic stops to street patrols

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