Perceptions of Police Conduct When Race and Gender Are Considered


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.

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  1. 1.

    Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot and killed by a White police officer. A grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

  2. 2.

    Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by a Toronto police officer with no attempt to de-escalate the situation. He had a switchblade in his hand after exposing himself.

  3. 3.

    Students are not required to participate in any studies. Students can choose to participate in various studies at the university if they would like to receive extra course credit in their introductory psychology courses (up to 2% maximum).


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Correspondence to Emily Pica.

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Pica, E., Thompson, L.E., Pozzulo, J. et al. Perceptions of Police Conduct When Race and Gender Are Considered. J Police Crim Psych 35, 131–145 (2020).

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  • Gender
  • Race
  • Use of force
  • Police relations
  • Police legitimacy