POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


STUDENTS' ATTITUDES TOWARD THE POLICE IN SLOVENIA

Gorazd Meško, Peter Umek, Kristjan Musek

1 PROBLEM

In recent years, there has been discussion and concern about changes in police roles, increased professionalism, judicial constraints on the police, and possible role confusion. There have been conducted many such studies in Western Europe and USA, among them have been studies of policemen's usually positive perceptions of police work and of the public and citizen attitudes toward the police (Munn and Renner 1978). The later trend to be mildly positive, but more negative among blacks (USA), the young, people in lower socioeconomic groups, and those who have had unpleasant experiences with the police (Decker 1981, Storms, Nolan, Tenzell 1990, Davis 1990, Vrij 1993).

However, there has been little information on self-description of policemen compared with their perceptions of ideal policemen. Such self-descriptions and perceptions are likely to vary from police department to police department and from one social group to another. We are interested in students' perception of themselves. We are also interested in how do they see the real and the ideal policemen. Besides, our interest is also determination of differences among self-description, perception of the real and the ideal policemen. Also of interest are similarities and differences between students of College of Police and Security Studies (CPSS) and students of other institutions within the University of Ljubljana. Students of College of Police and Security Studies are mostly policemen who study as the full time students and have been employed by the Ministry of the Interior in Slovenia. Thus we can observe how students at College of Police and Security Studies and students of other institutions conceive of real policemen, themselves, and ideal policemen.

2 SAMPLING

A detailed questionnaire including the Semantic Differential was administered to 50 students of the College of Police and Security Studies in Ljubljana and 42 students of different institutions within the University in Ljubljana in a study year 1995/96. An average age of the students at the College of Police and Security Studies is 20 years, and 25 years for the students of other institutions at the University of Ljubljana.

3 HYPOTHESES

Hypothesis 1: Differences between the students at the College of Police and Security Studies and other students are expected in assessment of policemen on the Semantic Differential.

Hypothesis 2: The students at the College of Police and Security Studies assess policemen more positively than other students.

Hypothesis 3: Differences are expected in self-description between two comparing groups of students.

Hypothesis 4: The students of the College of Police and Security Studies assess themselves more positively than other students.

Hypothesis 5: Differences are expected in assessment of the ideal policemen.

Hypothesis 6: The students of the College of Police and Security Studies are expected to assess ideal policemen more positively.

4 METHOD AND RESEARCH INSTRUMENTS

The Semantic Differential (Osgood 1952) was the instrument used in the present study. The Semantic Differential consisted 20 items, for each of which the participants gave a rating on a 7 point scale between opposites, such as good-bad, considerate-inconsiderate.

The participants were asked to do Semantic Differential six times (the real policemen, self-description, the ideal policemen, the juvenile delinquents, the criminals, and the victims of crime). In our study have been included just three Semantic Differentials, those for assessment of the real policemen, self-description and the ideal policemen.

The Semantic Differential which was used had been tested before with reliability analysis on a sample of 50 students and 30 participants of different police courses. Determined alpha coefficient for all six Semantic Differentials was 0.89.

We choose 15 items and 5 control items, together 20 items, which consist of following adjectives and their opposites: responsible, caring, tactful, honest, careful, mannerly, intelligent, balanced, amiable, cooperative, hard-working, cultured, considerate, respected, polite, reasonable, honest, diligent, good and adaptable.

4 RESULTS

All differences within students reported below are significant at least at the 0.05 level, using analysis of variance. The statistical significant differences are marked with a following symbol: asteriks (*). The results are summarized in figures 1, 2, and 3.


A legend for all semantic differentials:



------- = students of other institutions within the University of Ljubljana

======= = students at the College of Police and Security Studies in Ljubljana

Description of Real Policemen

Analyses of variance reveal significant differences at 18 of 20 items on semantic differential at the .05 level. Also for 18 of 20 items on semantic differential are determined to be assessed differently and are statistically significant. The Students of the College of Police and Security Studies assess the policemen more positively than other students (the overall mean for the students of CPSS is 4.99, and the mean of other students is 3.80).

The results imply that the students of other higher education institutions within the University of Ljubljana are more critical and express more negative attitudes toward the policemen. A surprising fact is, that the assessment of the policemen was below the mean (3.5). That is the reason why the mean for all the items together was just 3.80. More positive results on the semantic differential of the students at the CPSS are possible to explain with less critical attitude and a wish for better self-image within the professional group (a vast majority of the students at CPSS are policemen). We have also to respect the fact that the comparing group of the students consisting of students from the social sciences and humanistic institutions. Students are likely to express more negative attitudes toward the police and assess them worse than other citizens. This is a good starting point for assessment the image of the police within the entire population. These results also show us that the police should pay more attention to different social groups and treat them properly (not to discriminate them).

The problem of most concern is assessment of the respect towards the police. The results reveal that both groups of the students assess the item "policemen are respected-not respected" very low. The mean is 2.80 and is the lowest mean of all items at all three semantic differentials. Both results imply that police profession is not well respected among people. An interesting fact is that the students at the CPSS, who express very positive attitudes towards the policemen, attribute respect towards the police very low. Such criticism towards own profession and people who "do the policing" implies the high level of frustration in the police. This should be an alarm for more organized changes of the police image in public and the establishment of better police-public relations. Unhappy and disappointed policemen can not perform their job at the optimal level until this frustration is resolved.

The second concerning result is the assessment of the expectation how the police are careful. Students of other institutions attribute to the policemen to be more careful than the students at the CPSS. In fact, that does not mean that the students of other institutions want to stress that the policemen are appropriately careful. Implication could sound that the police are too careful in the contacts to other people and thus they are less efficient and less successful.

Self-description

In 11 from 20 items on the semantic differential significant statistical differences are revealed. This leads us to accept the third hypothesis which comprises the statement that the students of the College of Police and Security Studies assess themselves more positively than the students of other institutions.

In 17 from 20 items the students of other institutions attribute to themselves more negative self-description than the students of the College of Police and Security Studies (students of CPSS: M=5.93, other students: M=5.53). Thus, we can accept the fourth hypothesis.

The results show that the students of other institutions and the students at the CPSS assess themselves positively (none of the means is not below the average on the semantic differential). A vast majority of the items are assessed more positively by the students of CPSS and shows an inclination toward a less critical view of themselves. There is also a question of a social desirability in responses.

The same result is determined in the item about the respect towards themselves. The item which shows how respected respondents should be, reveals that the students at the CPSS are a little bit more respected than the policemen in general (of course, many of them were selected to pursue the study as successful policemen).

The result about intelligence of respondents is surprising. The students at the CPSS assessed themselves as less intelligent than other students within the University of Ljubljana.

Despite the tendency of more positive and social desirable answers, the students at the CPSS assess themselves lower in item about intelligence. There is a doubt about self-criticism which could be a result of a stereotype about the policemen in general, especially about "cleverness" of the police. We can make a conclusion that the students at CPSS (policemen) are more influenced by the stereotype about the police and assess themselves in accordance with it.

Description of Ideal Policemen

Significant statistical differences are determined at 4 of 20 items. We can conclude that the hypothesis which assumes that the students at CPSS express attitudes towards the ideal policemen differently than other students, can not be accepted.

At 18 of 20 items on the semantic differential the students of other institutions attribute less positive image of the ideal policemen than the students at the CPSS (students at CPSS: M=6.67, other students: M=6.53). This represents a sufficient reason for not accepting the sixth hypothesis.

The results imply a high level of consent about the expectation about ideal policemen. Both groups attribute very positive image of the expected ideal image. The results reveal a huge gap between attitudes toward the real policemen and the expected ideal, especially in the group of the students of other institutions within the University of Ljubljana. The differences in assessment between real policemen and ideal policemen by the students at the CPSS are not significant, especially if we make a comparison with other group of students who assess the real policemen very critically.

Very positive assessment of the ideal policemen and high expectations mean that the real policemen are under stress because of overidealized expectations. Even the students who are very critical towards the policemen are aware of the important role of the police. We have to take into consideration the fact about the importance of police work and great expectations of the public. Flexibility and ability of adaptation to different social circumstances are of big importance for the police. Communication and different activities within the police work, especially community oriented policing are significant in making people aware of the limits of policing. An undesirable result of not making the police role clear and accepted among the public can cause marginalisation, stigmatisation and isolation of policemen (Meško, 1993, 1994).

After studying all the semantic differentials closely and having insight in the problems of the police we can make a conclusion. There is present need for organized and systematic approach for resolving the problems of the police image and the police-public relations. Cooperation between the police and the public is the only solution in endeavors for more kind and polite police. The results of the survey propose several options for designing and organizing such a program. One of our suggestions is that we could start with resolving the problems where the biggest gaps between compared groups have been determined. Useful directions are also provided by Auten (1981) who discusses paramilitary model of policing and police professionalism.


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