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The impact of police culture on traffic stop searches: an analysis of attitudes and behavior

Eugene A. Paoline III (Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA)
William Terrill (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 September 2005




To examine the extent to which cultural fragmentation among police officers results in differences in searches of suspects and their surroundings during proactive traffic stops.


Cluster and multivariate analyses are performed utilizing survey and observational data collected as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN).


Differences in search behavior among patrol officers are found as a result of variation in cultural alignments. That is, patrol officers that adhere to the culture (in varying degrees) from an attitudinal standpoint are more likely to engage in searches than those who most ardently resist cultural attitudes.

Research limitations/implications

Although the classification scheme captured many of the core attitudes associated with police culture, it did not measure all of them. Also, the departments studied would compare to most American municipal police organizations, but would make poor comparisons to very large urban or small rural agencies, where culture might operate in different ways.

Practical implications

Police administrators can use this information if they wished to alter the rate at which search behavior occurs.


This study fills a research void in policing by examining whether attitudinal variation in cultural commitment results in different behavioral patterns. This work also adds to a larger body of social science research by finding an attitude‐behavior relationship.



Paoline, E.A. and Terrill, W. (2005), "The impact of police culture on traffic stop searches: an analysis of attitudes and behavior", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 455-472.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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