Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

5

Race and Policing in Diff erent
Ecological Contexts

Ronald Weitzer

A recent trend in policing research is its focus on ecological context. Demographic factors continue to be studied, but the literature is no longer confined to assessing the influence of individual-level variables on either officer behavior or citizens' perceptions of the police. Scholars are increasingly realizing that place matters. This chapter examines current knowledge regarding the effects of three different contexts—neighborhoods, cities, and nations. But before proceeding to that discussion, I briefly summarize findings on selected individual-level predictors.


Demographic Factors

Race/ethnicity is one of the strongest predictors of citizen attitudes and experiences with the police. Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to believe that the police mistreat people, are racially biased, lack accountability, and need reform. At the same time, most studies document significant differences between Latinos and African Americans. Latinos tend to take an intermediate position between whites and blacks, more critical of the police than whites but less critical than blacks. This pattern has been described as a “racial hierarchy” in contrast to a more cohesive “minority-group orientation.”1 At the same time, although racial hierarchy is evident on many specific policing issues, there are some areas where the two minority groups are largely in agreement.2

One problem with the category “Latino” or “Hispanic” is that it masks internal differences between subgroups along the lines of ancestry and immigrant versus nativeborn status. One might expect immigrants to differ from native-born citizens in their frame of reference: that is, conceptions of police in immigrants' home countries (often corrupt and repressive) may be imported into the new country, in contrast to more indigenous influences among the native-born population. Yet the immigrantnative variable has almost never been examined.3 Similarly neglected is the impact of national origin.4 A couple of surveys reported that Puerto Ricans were more critical of the police than other Hispanic groups. Puerto Ricans were significantly more dissatisfied with the police working in their community5 and more likely than other

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