Public perception of law enforcement's treatment of suspects in North Carolina: Testing conflict, attitude consistency, and ecological theories
This research study examines whether citizens of North Carolina perceive the existence of discrimination in the treatment of suspects by law enforcement officers. The study was undertaken to ascertain the factors which characterize persons who believe that law enforcement officers treat certain suspects differently than others versus people who do not believe differential treatment exists. Previous research has acknowledged that it is of equal importance to study public perceptions of bias in the criminal justice system as to study whether bias actually exists. As such, this study does not attempt to determine if discrimination actually occurs, but rather what the public perceives as occurring in the criminal justice system.
To study the factors influencing perceptions three models, proposed in previous research, were tested to explain differential attitudes: conflict theory, attitude consistency theory, and ecological theory. Additionally, a combined model including the components of each theory was tested. The three models were analyzed based on data collected from samples of North Carolina residents in 1997, 1999, and 2001.
The findings suggest that none of the three models adequately explains differing perceptions. Furthermore, the model with the greatest explanatory ability was the combined model, thereby indicating that perceptions are multidimensional and a single theoretical explanation is insufficient.
Based on the research findings, several policy implications were identified:
* Policymakers must recognize the interdependence of the elements that compose the criminal justice system.
* Policymakers must recognize the need to close the gap between the public's perception of discrimination and reality.
* Policymakers must recognize the disparity in public opinion of specific segments of the population.
* Policymakers must recognize the importance of positive public opinion to the success of policing initiatives.
Advisor:Michael L. Vasu; Ellen S. Vasu; Deborah L. Weisel; G. David Garson
School Location:USA - North Carolina
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:11/20/2002