PhD student researches how to alter public perceptions of police

June 2017

Simple changes in police officers’ attire and equipment can have profound effects on whether others perceive them to be aggressive, approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable. Rylan Simpson, a doctoral student in criminology, law and society, recently demonstrated such changes in perception during a panel discussion at the University of Redlands, an event that was featured in the San Bernardino Sun.

Simpson is currently studying the topic as part of his experiment, titled the Police Officer Perception Project.

More than 100 high school students at the discussion that kicked off the 12th annual Youth Court Summit were given clickers, shown images of police officers, and then asked to rate how they perceived them according to the various traits. Sunglasses made officers appear more aggressive; bright yellow vests made them appear less so.

"It’s easy to get wrapped up in the dismal, to think there’s no way to improve things," Simpson told the group, according to a story in the San Bernardino Sun. "That’s not true. There are things we can do to make things better. By thinking about what the role of police is and what we want it to be, we may be able to change it by changing things like the way police look."

Read the story.