Does racial discrimination matter: explaining perceived police bias across four racial/ethnic groups

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Purpose: This study uses a diverse sample of residents living in Northern California to study factors that are associated with public perceptions of police bias. The authors also investigate whether perceptions of racial discrimination mediate the relationships between race/ethnicity and perceptions of police bias. Design/methodology/approach: The sampling frame of the study was constructed through two stages. First, the frame included 212 census tracts in the study setting that comprise the study population. The authors stratified the census tracts by using demographic information from the most recent American Community Survey. The authors also used a multi-mode address-based design in which a household adult was invited through mail to participate in a web-based survey. Findings: The authors found that racial/ethnic minorities (i.e. Latino, African American and Asian respondents) were more likely to experience racism and report police as biased than White residents. Racial and ethnic disparities in assessments of police bias, however, disappeared when controlling for direct and indirect experiences of racism, suggesting that experiences with racism are key factors explaining variations in perception of police bias across racial/ethnic groups. Research limitations/implications: The generalizability of the findings is unclear. Future research should focus on multiple cities to advance the understanding of perceptions of police bias. Second, the measures of direct and indirect experiences with racism do not identify the source of the problematic encounters, and thus the authors are unaware of the experiences respondents had with police officers. Practical implications: This paper includes the implications for the perceptions of police bias and how to improve police-citizen interactions. Social implications: This paper will facilitate ongoing debate on police-citizens interactions. Specifically, how experiences of racism can improve the understanding of bias toward the police. Originality/value: This paper fulfills an research need to study perceptions of police bias among diverse immigrant populations.

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National Institute of Justice


Police bias, Racial discrimination, Racial/ethnic socialization


Justice Studies