Ethnicity and Other Demographics Associated with Perceived Police Fairness

  • S. Hakan Can


Past research suggests that ethnicity influences perceptions of the fairness and legality of police action. However, most studies focused on Black and White individuals with less attention to Hispanics, most studies did not control for other demographics, and most studies gave no consideration for differences according to region of the United States. The present study examines how perceptions of police fairness in home and vehicle searches differ according to ethnicity (Black, White, Hispanic), while controlling for other demographics (gender, age, income, prior legal experience), with separate analyses for individuals from the Southwest (Texas) and the Northwest (Pennsylvania). Participants included 334 Texas university students and 643 Pennsylvania university students who completed anonymous surveys to provide demographics and to rate how “reasonable and therefore legal” were eight home search cases and seven vehicle search cases reviewed by the Supreme Court. T-tests revealed that the two regions were similar in perceived police fairness for home searches, but Texas individuals perceived more police fairness in vehicle searches. ANCOVAs conducted separately by region revealed that White individuals perceived more police fairness in both home and vehicle searches than did Black or Hispanic individuals, but only in Pennsylvania. Additionally, more police fairness was reported by individuals who were older (in Pennsylvania), with more income (in Pennsylvania), and with more prior legal experience (in Texas). Present results suggest that ethnicity may not be the primary demographic associated with perceptions of police fairness, with learned personal and regional experiences just as important as predictors.


Perceptions of police Police fairness Police-community relations Search legality 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Hakan Can
    • 1
  1. 1.Penn State UniversitySchuylkillUSA

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