The Effects of Race on Relationships with the Police: A Survey of African American and Latino Youths in Chicago

Article excerpt

Abstract: Race is one of the most powerful variables explaining public attitudes toward the police. The majority of studies on race and perceptions of the police have explored differences between African Americans and Whites. The emphasis of previous research on black-white comparisons has left unanswered many questions about minority group differences in attitudes toward the police, especially differences between Latinos and African Americans. The present study explored whether the police-related views of African American and Latino students differ. We compared African American and Latino youths on their attitudes, feelings, and behavioral intentions toward the police. Our independent measures included prosocial values, commitment to school, and contact with the police. We found several similarities between Latino and African American students on the dependent measures. We discuss the implications of our findings for police practices.

Keywords: Police Relations; Youths; Minorities and Police; Trust in Police; Vicarious Experiences

Race is one of the most powerful variables explaining public attitudes toward the police (Skogan 2006). The majority of studies on race and perceptions of the police have explored differences between African Americans and Whites, concluding generally that African Americans are less satisfied with the police than are Whites (Browning, Cullen, Cao, Kopache, and Stevenson 1994; Ho and McKean 2004). The emphasis of previous research on black-white comparisons has left unanswered many questions about differences in minority group attitudes toward the police, especially differences between Latinos and African Americans (Martinez 2007). For example, do Latinos and African Americans have similar views of the police? Do minority groups have different perceptions about whether the police care about their neighborhoods? Are Latino and African American youths similarly stopped and treated disrespectfully by the police? In the current study, we pose these and other questions to a sample of minority students in Chicago's Public School System.

Recent population estimates show that Latinos are now the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States (Schaefer 2006). The Latino population in Chicago has been soaring since 2000 (Little 2007). Although considered a heterogeneous population, most Chicago Latinos have their roots in either Mexico or Puerto Rico. According to Schaefer (2006), Latinos differ from one another in their immigration experiences and cultural identities. Although they are brought together by a common language and shared media outlets (e.g., cable TV stations), most Latinos eschew panethnicity or solidarity among ethnic subgroups, preferring instead to be characterized as Mexican American, Cuban, or Puerto Rican. However, the members of these different Latino ethnic groups appear to have quite similar views about the police (Skogan and Steiner 2004).

Evidence suggests that African Americans and Latinos harbor different attitudes and perceptions regarding the police. For example, Skogan and Hartnett (1997) found that awareness of, participation in, and support for Chicago's community policing initiative, Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), were considerably lower among Latinos, as a whole, than among African Americans. Non-English-speaking Latinos in Chicago had particularly unfavorable views of the police and rarely communicated with the police. Skogan and Steiner (2004) also found that although Spanish-speaking residents live in the city's most troublesome communities with high rates of crime and disorder, they are the least likely group to initiate contact with the police. Walker, Spohn, and DeLone (2000) suggested that non-English-speaking Latinos are reluctant to communicate with the police because of the language barrier. Others fear that calling the police will trigger investigations of the immigration status of community residents. …