The Impact of Police Attitudes Towards Offenders on Law-Enforcement Assisted Diversion Decisions

AuthorLauren Gant,Lonnie Schaible,Stephanie Ames
Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
The Impact of Police
Attitudes Towards
Offenders on Law-
Enforcement Assisted
Diversion Decisions
Lonnie Schaible
, Lauren Gant
and Stephanie Ames
Diversion is a prevalent alternative to traditional criminal justice processing,
especially at the pre-trial stage. More recently, pre-arrest diversion has been imple-
mented to avert the consequences of arrest, pre-trial proceedings, and future incar-
ceration. Pre-booking diversion programs rely on the willingness of officers to use
their discretionary authority to divert low-level offenders to community-based treat-
ment programs in lieu of arrest, raising considerations about how law enforcement
view offenders. Using data collected from a survey distributed during a Law
Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) training session for officers in one jurisdic-
tion in the Rocky Mountain West (N ¼118), the current study examines the impact
of officer attitudes toward offenders on their decision to divert individuals. Findings
indicate that officers who hold an optimistic view toward offender rehabilitation are
more likely to divert offenders. Results and their significance for practical implemen-
tation of law enforcement pre-arrest diversion efforts are discussed.
law enforcement assisted diversion, police discretion, police attitudes towards
offenders, diversion, cynicism
School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, United States
Corresponding Author:
Lonnie Schaible, School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver,1380 Lawrence Street, Suite 500,
Denver, CO 80204, United States.
Police Quarterly
2021, Vol. 24(2) 205–232
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611120960714
Low-level repeat offenders, especially among drug users, sex workers, and
people experiencing homelessness, are commonly swept into a ‘revolving door’
of criminal justice involvement (Collins et al., 2017). Pre-trial diversion and re-
entry programs have made efforts to connect offenders with resources to reduce
the risks of chronic recidivism; however, not all these programs have successfully
or cost-effectively diverted people (Listwan et al., 2006; Neyroud, 2015).
Recently, pre-arrest programs, like Seattle’s LEAD program, have sought to
intervene prior to arrest to avert the formal and informal costs of subsequent
processing. Early research suggests that this is a potentially promising approach
(Beckett, 2016; Collins et al., 2017; Herbert et al., 2018; Rouhani et al., 2019;
Worden & McLean, 2018). Within these efforts, law enforcement officers play a
critical role in the decision to divert offenders; however, little research has been
conducted to evaluate what factors are likely to influence officers’ willingness to
divert offenders into such programs. As with other progressive policing reforms,
occupational cynicism and police attitudes are likely to present a significant
challenge for implementation (Lurigio & Skogan, 1994; Myhill & Bradford,
2013; Tankebe, 2010).
Policing as an institution has historically been conservative, risk averse, cyn-
ical, and driven by a core function of maintaining order and enforcing laws
through a virtual monopoly on coercive state authority (Bittner, 1990;
Brodeur, 2007; Brown, 1981; Greene, 2012; Loader & Walker, 2001). Further
hindering progressive reforms, the bureaucratic structure of modern policing is
still largely organized around the ‘myth of full enforcement’ and policies man-
dating or strongly advising arrest if probable cause exists (Goldstein, 1963;
Herbert, 1998; Mastrofski, 2004; Williams, 1984; Worden & McLean, 2018).
This is reinforced by an occupational tendency to hold in high esteem officers
who are skilled ‘hunters’ and make the most arrests (Paoline et al., 2000; Terrill
et al., 2003; Wilson, 1968). Additionally, the occupational sub-culture of polic-
ing exhibits cynical views toward human nature, and especially towards efforts
to reform or rehabilitate offenders (Herbert, 1998; Paoline, 2004; Paoline et al.,
2000; Prenzler, 1997). Taken together, these occupational tendencies potentially
pose significant challenges for receptivity of officers to the principles of LEAD
and other pre-arrest diversion efforts rooted in harm reduction.
Despite historical, structural and subcultural headwinds against change in
policing, officers have diverse views and policing styles with little oversight or
review of discretionary decisions, allowing officers the autonomy to work
around bureaucratic and subcultural constraints (Bittner, 1990; Goffman,
1983; Goldstein, 1963; McLean et al., 2019; Paoline, 2004; Paoline & Gau,
2018; Schaible & Gecas, 2010; Schulenberg, 2015; Worden & McLean, 2018).
Negotiated order emerging from this diversity of views has been widely docu-
mented across situations, police organizations and social contexts (Carr, 2012;
206 Police Quarterly 24(2)

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