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Tokenism in Policing: An Empirical Test of Kanter's Hypothesis

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 36 Issue: 1 Dated: March/April 2008 Pages: 1-10
Joseph L. Gustafson
Date Published
March 2008
10 pages
This study provides the first quantitative analysis of tokenism in the municipal police in context.
The study found weak to moderate evidence that token officers do experience more visibility and performance pressure than non-token officers, a weak association between gender status and perceptions of contrast and social isolation, and inconclusive evidence that token officers feel their social characteristics limit work roles and advancement opportunities. The most substantial finding came from the multinomial logit model of visibility and performance pressure, in which token male and female officers were 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely than non-token White male officers to agree that they felt more visible and criticized. A weak correlation, in the theoretically-predicted direction, was found between being a female officer and agreeing that gender-related jokes were often made, suggesting that women are more aware of, but and perhaps affected by, discriminatory comments that remind them of their differentness. It may be true that male officers use a subtle strategy to emphasize their commonalities in contrast to female officers, isolating these tokens and keeping them just slightly outside of inner occupational circles. The results of this methodologically-rigorous study may have policy implications for police administrators. If it is determined that tokenism processes are operating in the modern policing field, it may be necessary to reevaluate the current affirmative action in response to gender and racial discrimination. Perhaps affirmative action policies have placed too much emphasis on the numbers alone, without acknowledging some of the institutionalized mechanisms that bring about disparate treatment for women and minority police. Increasing the number of women and minority officers is a positive step, but such efforts may need augmentation, such as cultural sensitivity training. Data were collected from a short self-administered questionnaire related to the police work stress and police stress-related domestic violence for 1,106 full-time sworn officers representing all 9 Baltimore, MD police precincts. Figure, tables, appendix A, notes, and references