U.S. flag

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

Unpacking Public Attitudes to the Police: Contrasting Perceptions of Misconduct with Traditional Measures of Satisfaction

NCJ Number
International Journal of Police Science and Management Volume: 10 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2008 Pages: 9-22
Date Published
14 pages

This study aims to expand the understanding of the different dimensions of public attitudes to the police and the range of causal factors that impact them, such as police misconduct.


Significantly, the study shows that perceptions of police misconduct are distinct from perceptions of police effectiveness and responsiveness which have traditionally formed the primary focus on research on attitudes to the police. In extending earlier findings, this research shows that perceptions of misconduct are more influenced by media consumption, community factors, and experiences of police-initiated contacts, than are attitudes towards effectiveness and responsiveness. The more profound associations of community-based variables, such as race and neighborhood, with perceptions of misconduct highlight the importance of shared perceptions around questions of misconduct. Much research on public attitudes to the police in the United States has focused on perceptions of police effectiveness and responsiveness rather than police misconduct. This study used data from a five-neighborhood community survey to extend this focus. It tested four hypotheses: (1) public attitudes about police misconduct are distinct from their attitudes about police effectiveness and responsiveness; (2) determinants of attitudes about police misconduct are different from those relating to police effectiveness and responsiveness; (3) negative experiences of police among friends, family, and associates impact on personal attitudes to the police; and (4) attitudes toward the police are affected by the character of news coverage to which members of the public are exposed. Tables, references

Date Published: January 1, 2008