Equal under the Law: Officers' Perceptions of Equitable Treatment and Justice in Policing

Abstract

Much research has examined public views about fair treatment of citizens by police, but nearly nothing is known about officers’ perceptions of impartiality and justice within their own occupation. Efforts to improve minority representation in police organizations might be hampered if officers themselves believe that police do not always treat people in neutral, unbiased, and fair ways. The current study analyzes officers’ perceptions of whether their colleagues treat members of the public in ways that display racial impartiality, income impartiality, and procedural justice. Findings indicate that black officers are critical of policing on all three measures; however, controlling for perceived racial and income inequity in a regression model eliminates the race effect for procedural justice. Thus, black officers appear to perceive a greater degree of inequity in how officers treat the public and, in turn, perceived inequity reduces their beliefs that officers consistently engage in procedurally just policing. Implications for research and policy are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Studies from non-Western nations have not reproduced these findings, suggesting that this theoretical model might not extend beyond the Western context (Bradford, Huq, Jackson, & Roberts, 2014; Kochel, Parks, & Mastrofski, 2013; Sun, Wu, Hu, & Farmer, 2017; Tankebe, 2008, 2009; Woo, Maguire, & Gau, 2018).

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Appendix

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Table 6 Procedural justice scale items and loadings

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Gau, J.M., Paoline, E.A. Equal under the Law: Officers' Perceptions of Equitable Treatment and Justice in Policing. Am J Crim Just 45, 474–492 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09525-5

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Keywords

  • Police officer race
  • Occupational attitudes
  • Racial inequity
  • Income inequity
  • Procedural justice