This investigation examined the effects of ethnicity on conditioning public attitudes toward the police, based on representative samples of 200 residents from six different ethnic groups in Central Queens, New York.
The ethnic groups included African-Americans, Italians, Indians, Colombians, Ecuadoreans, and Dominicans. Respondents were asked about voluntary and involuntary contacts with the police, perceptions of police effectiveness and misconduct, and crime reporting. Contrary to expectations, no significant differences were found among the six ethnic groups in police-initiated contacts. On the other hand, there were large differences between ethnic communities in voluntary contacts with the police. The ethnic communities that were the longest-established and the best-integrated into the local political structure (African-Americans and Italians) were far more likely to use the police in instrumental ways than communities that were less well-established. Respondents held contradictory attitudes toward police behavior. Most believed that police officers were effective in addressing local crime concerns, but most also believed that police officers were guilty of engaging in misconduct. Experience with the police played a role in shaping people's attitudes. Individuals who had been stopped by the police within the past year were more likely to believe that police engaged in misconduct and were less willing to report crimes than other respondents. The most powerful determinant of opinions about the police and willingness to report crimes was membership in particular ethnic communities. Respondents who were born in the United States had more positive attitudes toward the police than respondents who had been born abroad. References, tables, and figures
Date Published: August 1, 2000