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Calling for Service: Implications of Reactive Policing on Law Enforcement and the Public

Small Fund Research Project

Contemporary policing in the US is largely reactive, meaning police respond to calls for service from community members. By deciding what types of incidents require police presence and what do not, citizens exercise considerable control over law enforcement and the policing of everyday life. But in what ways are these demands mediated? Are calls for service passed directly from caller to police or are there organizational mechanisms in place to limit the number and type of requests made on police?

Public safety answering points (PSAPs) are where citizen perceptions, expectations, and demands are conveyed to the police. Call-takers are the actors who filter, redirect, interpret, and soothe callers before police ever arrive on scene.

My research examines the ways in which call takers are trained to interpret requests for police, and accept or reject particular demands. Questions of interest include: When and how do call-takers deviate from protocol, despite being on a recorded line? What kinds of language do call-takers use to protect themselves from liability? How do responses by call takers vary by the location of caller, by the type of incident, and by the gender of the caller and call-taker?

To address these questions, I will code and analyze audio transcripts between call-takers and citizens, conduct interviews with call-takers at a local PSAP, and collect ethnographic fieldnotes as a part-time call taker. Through collecting and analyzing multiple data sources, I seek to understand how conversations between call-takers and the public shape when and where police are mobilized and how they act when they arrive on scene.

Funding: Marshall Weinberg Research Fellowship

Funding Period: 05/15/2017 to 05/15/2018

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