How cultural beliefs affect police, court decisions

Washington D.C. [USA], Apr. 7 : A team of scientists has found that when individuals adopt this outlook, referred to as a "code of the street," it can increase their probability of arrest or conviction.

The Florida State University researchers found that individuals were more likely to be arrested and convicted when they adopted the code of the street or lived in areas where this belief system was more entrenched in the community.

"You can find a 'street code' culture, or something analogous to it, in other parts of the world," Daniel Mears said.

"In part, it says that if your toughness is questioned or if you feel threatened, it's almost mandatory that you react with violence.

The reaction doesn't have to be physical; it can also be verbal threats. Either way, the response signals that you are not to be messed with." The team also found that the two effects amplified one another.

"In the study, individuals who adhered to the code more strongly and who lived in an area where the code of the street was more strongly embraced were disproportionately more likely to be arrested and convicted," Mears said.

In explaining the results, the researchers discussed how "cognitive heuristics" may play a role in law enforcement and prosecutorial or judicial decision making.

These individuals must make rapid-fire decisions and may rely on what amount to "mental shortcuts" to interpret behaviour and how to respond to it.

Prior criminal activity and evidence of residence in a disadvantaged, predominantly minority or high-crime area may lead officers or court actors to assume that an individual is criminal.

Race, in particular, may play a role in contributing to such assumptions. Overall, the paper stressed the importance of focusing more systematically on culture in the understanding of law enforcement and court decisions.

Mears said the study should be repeated to consider the culture in police departments and courts to see how it may influence the likelihood of arrest, conviction or sentencing for certain groups.

The findings are published in Justice Quarterly..

Source: ANI