Master’s Thesis – Placing Race in Context: Race, Neighborhood and Trust in the Police

Research analyzing perceptions of the police has confirmed the salience of race in explaining disparate perceptions of the legitimacy and fairness of the police. However, more recent research has suggested that neighborhood-level processes may account for the burden of racial disparities in attitudes toward the police. The current study seeks to examine further the extent to which these processes explain racial differences in trust of the police. I hypothesize that race will continue to be an informative and significant predictor on an individual’s trust in the police even after controlling for neighborhood, providing further evidence of a conflict theory of minority-police relations. To remove the potential confounding effects of neighborhoods, this study compares the differences between black and white residents’ trust of the police who are matched to the same set of neighborhoods. The results indicate that even after blacks and white residents are matched by neighborhood locations and a number of neighborhood-level covariates are taken into account, race remains an important predictor in a citizen’s perception of the local police. These results imply the need for both sociological theory and public policy to recognize the importance of historical and contemporary racial discrimination in explaining racial disparities in perceptions of criminal justice agencies.