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Racialized perceptions of the police


Published online on


Policing: An International Journal, Ahead of Print.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine differences in latent structures/dimensions in public perceptions of the police by race/ethnicity and level of identification with a given race/ethnic group. Design/methodology/approach To identify differences in dimensions of juveniles’ perceptions of the police by the sub-samples, factor analyses were conducted utilizing data from the Gang Resistance Education and Training program evaluation. Findings The results show that minority juveniles have a relatively fragmented dimensional structure for the construct of perceptions of the police, while white juveniles have a unidimensional structure. Furthermore, moderate within-group differences in structures were found among African–American juveniles. Research limitations/implications The results of the current study call for further examination of racial invariant assumptions in criminology. Since individual dimensions constituting perceptions of the police vary by race/ethnicity, those dimensions may potentially have unique associations with endogenous variables (e.g. criminality and cooperation with the police) according to individuals’ racial/ethnic membership. Practical implications Police should clearly understand individuals’ dimensions constituting perceptions of the police and should identify dimensions that greatly impact precursors to compliance and cooperation with police such as perceived police legitimacy or perceived risk of sanction. Originality/value Individuals’ dimensions constituting perceptions of the police have significant implications on the construction of measures and their associations with other variables; however, racial differences in these dimensions have not been explored since Sullivan et al.’s (1987) research about three decades ago. In addition, the current study examined within-race differences in the dimensions constituting perceptions of the police.