U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Race and Perceptions of Police Misconduct

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 51 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2004 Pages: 305-325
Date Published
August 2004
21 pages

This study examined whether and how citizens’ perceptions of police misconduct are influenced by their personal and vicarious experiences with officers, exposure to media reporting on police misconduct, and neighborhood conditions.


Relations between police officers and minority populations have been historically contentious in countries with multiracial populations, such as the United States. Previous research has continually found racial differences in perceptions of police, with minorities more likely to express negative views regarding police officers. While these differences in perception have been well-documented, less is known about why these racial differences exist. The current study is informed by the group-position model of race relations, a variant of conflict theory. It extends previous research by examining micro- and macro-level factors influencing citizens’ perceptions of police. Data were gathered from a 2002 National survey of 1,792 White, Hispanic, and African-American residents of metropolitan areas with populations of at least 100,000. Data were gathered as part of a larger study on police-citizen relations across the United States. Independent variables included in the analysis were race, experiences with police misconduct, media exposure, neighborhood conditions, and several control variables including education, gender, household income, and age. The dependent variable was perception of police misconduct. Results of statistical analyses indicate that race is a key factor in structuring attitudes toward police misconduct; the relationship remained significant after controlling for other relevant variables. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Whites to report negative interactions with police officers, to be exposed to negative media reports of police officers, and to live in high-crime neighborhoods where policing may be more problematic; each increasing the perception of police misconduct. The findings support the racial group-position model as it is applied to institutions, such as the police. Also noteworthy was the media’s role in shaping perceptions of police misconduct; repeated exposure to negative reports about police was one of the strongest predictors of citizens’ perceptions of police misconduct, net of other factors. Tables, appendix, references

Date Published: August 1, 2004