Perceptions of Police Conduct When Race and Gender Are Considered

  • Emily PicaEmail author
  • Lauren E. Thompson
  • Joanna Pozzulo
  • Chelsea L. Sheahan


With the recent media attention on police discretion and police discrimination, the current studies aimed to address whether people believe the race and gender of a person under suspicion influences police conduct. In study 1, participants (N = 137) read an incident summary where two individuals, who were described as being Black or White and male or female, were asked to leave a local coffee establishment; the police were called, and the individuals were arrested. Participants were more likely to believe the call to police and the arrest were justified when the individuals were White as opposed to Black. Study 2 was an extension of study 1 whereby the race of the individual calling the police also was varied between Black and White. Participants (N = 316) in study 2 also were more likely to believe the call to police and the arrest were justified when the individuals were White as opposed to Black. Additionally, participants were more likely to believe the call to the police was justified when the individual was male compared to female. Across both studies, participants also were asked to rate how much they believed race and gender influenced the call to the police and arrest; participants believed that both race and gender were influential in these decisions. The current studies provide new information regarding the public’s perception of police prejudice and suggest that people may be apt to consider the negative relationships between the police and minorities when considering a specific case. Further, the results suggest that the public does not support or agree with racially driven arrests and actually counteract any prejudice by making anti-stereotypical judgements.


Gender Race Use of force Police relations Police legitimacy 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological Science and CounselingAustin Peay State UniversityClarksvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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