Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Objective: The purpose of the current study was to examine the effects of police officer as well as suspect race on U.S.residents’ perceptions of police use of force.
Method: Participants were randomly assigned one of four vignettes describing an encounter between either a Black or White police officer and a Black or White robbery suspect. Suspect race and officer race were manipulated so that participants received a vignette involving pairings of a White officer with a Black suspect; a White officer with a White suspect; a Black officer, White suspect or a Black officer and suspect. Participants were then surveyed regarding the extent to which he or she believed the amount of force used by the police officer against the suspect was more or less justified. Several exploratory analyses were also conducted to see whether other demographic variables would be salient in affecting perceptions of police use of force.
Results: Results of the current study indicated that police race and/or suspect race (vignettes) did not affect U.S. residents’ perceptions of police use of force generally, contrary to our hypotheses. However, police race and/or suspect race did affect participants’ perceptions who identified their political affiliation as independent when assessing the scenario as it happens between a Black officer and Black suspect in Vignette 4. White participants in this study generally found the use of force as more justified than did Hispanic participants irrespective of vignettes, concurrent with findings of extant literature. Exploratory analyses later revealed that when racist attitudes toward Black people and having a police officer who is a relative or friend are included as variables, they perhaps supersedes many other important social identities or demographic characteristics (gender, race, political orientation, etc.) in determining a person’s perceptions of police use of force.
Conclusions: Although pinpointing exactly what influences a person’s perceptions of police use of force is audacious since it is so nuanced due to many different factors that contribute to these perceptions (i.e., race, gender, political affiliation, etc.), when it comes down to it, racism and having a relative or friend who is a police officer played a very important role across all other variables. This is an important finding considering that, overall, suspect and officer race did not affect perceptions of police use of force. However, we were still able to find racism and having a relative or police officer friend to be the underlying and key determinants in perceptions of police use of force. Possible implications and limitations of this study are discussed.
Pilgrim, Diamond G., "Public Perceptions of Police Use of Force: Does Officer Race Matter?" (2022). USC Aiken Psychology Theses. 60.