Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Jeff Rojek

Abstract

Research on the relationship between police and citizens consistently finds that attitudes toward police (ATP) are least positive among black citizens in areas of concentrated disadvantage. While much of the research in this area focuses specifically on ATP among young black males in low-income communities because they have the most contact with police, there has been relatively little research that has included older and/or female residents. Additionally, research has yet to examine ATP in racial and economic enclaves that may have different social and environmental characteristics than the surrounding community. This study utilizes in-depth interviews with 60 residents of two public housing communities in Columbia, South Carolina to examine ATP and, once formed, how ATP is further shaped and maintained in these communities. The findings are consistent with the procedural justice model in that the police-citizen interaction process is an important factor in shaping citizens’ ATP and perceptions of police legitimacy. However, unlike the procedural justice model of police-citizen interaction, residents’ global perceptions of policing played a significant role in their interactions with individual officers. Residents also distinguished between two different types of police legitimacy. The broader definition relates to whether police are perceived as a legitimate law enforcement entity, while the more narrow definition of legitimacy relates to whether police are perceived as a viable means of dealing with problems in the community. Residents’ age, whether they were involved in criminal activity, and relationship with others in the community were also found to influence the ATP development process. These findings suggest that community context and differences among residents are important factors regarding how ATP is developed and should be considered by law enforcement officers when interacting with the public.

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