Police Executive Opinions of Legal Regulation

By conducting a national survey, this Article empirically assesses how American police leaders perceive external legal regulation.

At various times, policymakers have decried external police regulations as too expensive, too complicated, or too difficult to apply to different factual scenarios. Critics have also alleged that police regulations change too frequently, inadequately consider input from the law enforcement community, and unduly risk the safety of officers or the broader community.

These complaints underscore an uncomfortable but unavoidable reality: efforts to regulate police behavior often require policymakers to make compromises. A rule that promotes one goal may necessarily compromise another important goal. So, what do police leaders actually care about most when faced with external legal regulation? To answer this question, this Article relies on a dataset of 489 survey responses collected from a random sample of law enforcement leaders across the country. With the help of a multidimensional preference-scaling model, this Article shows that the chief concern of police leaders is how external legal regulations impair the safety of officers and the public. Respondents rated the protection of constitutional rights and the prevention of crime as the second and third most important values. And, contrary to assumptions made by many policymakers, police leaders ranked cost, predictability, and consistency as relatively unimportant considerations.

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