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A Transparency Statement Improves Community-Police Interactions
Billions have been invested in community-oriented policing to promote positive police-community interactions. However, trust in law enforcement remains low. Our qualitative analysis of >500 hours of naturalistic observations suggested this is in part because officers can make civilians feel threatened, even when they are not actively investigating a crime. In a pre-registered field experiment (N = 232 community-police interactions), we document that civilians report less threat and greater trust when officers begin with a short “transparency statement” communicating benevolent intent (e.g., “I'm walking around trying to get to know the community”). Natural language processing analyses and physiological data corroborate these conclusions. Further, six online experiments showed transparency statements were equally effective for historically-overpoliced groups (e.g., Black civilians; total N = 3,180). This multi-method investigation highlights one reason why authority figures like police often fail to promote positive community relationships: a lack of transparency about the reasons for their behavior.