A just-completed study in New Jersey gave a makeover to the routine traffic stop, and researchers suggest the new approach goes a long way in improving the relationship between law enforcement and the public.

Prompted by strained policy-community relations in the wake of high-profile violent incidents, the study changed the way police in Atlantic City and Pleasantville interacted with drivers and passengers throughout more than 1,400 traffic stops.

Officers making these stops were following a script that aimed to promote fairness and let the motorists know that they had been pulled over for a legitimate reason. Police were equipped with crash history data they could present to drivers, which show why traffic stops may be happening at certain locations more than others.

In addition, the study allowed officers to give drivers the option to access police-worn body-cam footage from the interaction. The driver would be given a code, and days later, they could pull up the footage online.

"We thought that if police become more transparent and accountable ... this will alleviate the stress," said Nusret Sahin, lead researcher and an associate professor of criminal justice at Stockton University in Galloway.

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The $700,000 initiative was funded by the National Institute of Justice, for Stockton, Rutgers and Northwestern universities, and the two police departments. The traffic stops occurred from October 2022 to June 2024.

Researchers were on hand for each of the traffic stops. After the interaction with police, the drivers were asked whether they'd want to participate in a survey about their experience. Fifty-five percent agreed, Sahin said.

"We found that there are significant differences in perceptions between the people who received our protocol and the others," Sahin said.

The protocol enhanced trust and confidence in the police, researchers said. Individuals who had experienced the protocol are "more likely to cooperate with the police," and more likely to "obey police directives," Sahin said.

"We believe that officers should engage with citizens, listen to them, and explain their practices," Sahin said. "When they do this, they get public support for their enforcement or their activities in the community."

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