Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

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

Chapter 9

Beyond Stop Rates
Using Qualitative Methods to Examine
Racially Biased Policing

Rod K. Brunson

Most of the research on citizens' perceptions of and experiences with police has been based on surveys or official data. In addition, these studies have typically focused on discrete, one-time encounters rather than cumulative measures of police-citizen contacts. And while these investigations have highlighted the importance of race and age differences, they have not elicited the kind of information that would allow researchers to acquire deeper understandings of meanings for study participants. On the other hand, qualitative research methods provide a unique opportunity to examine and better understand the range of experiences that may influence individuals' attitudes toward the police. The research presented in this chapter draws from in-depth interviews with forty African American adolescent males in a disadvantaged urban community and seeks to investigate their personal experiences with aggressive policing. In addition, the current study highlights the benefits of utilizing comprehensive and nuanced qualitative measures of police-minority citizen encounters.

Disenfranchised citizens of color have routinely protested being unjustly targeted, detained, questioned, and searched by the police for several decades. The news media and law enforcement administrators began to take the matter seriously, however, after a host of high-profile minorities, who were not accustomed to these aggressive police practices, complained of similar treatment.1 Policing scholars and policymakers also have recently begun to examine the nature and extent of racially biased policing in several locales across the country.2 Much of this research suggests that discriminatory policing is a problem, at least in some jurisdictions. The U.S. government along with a growing number of state and local law enforcement agencies has vehemently denounced the practice. While strong condemnations and sweeping policy changes are fitting responses, they are perhaps not enough to adequately insulate minority citizens from discriminatory policing practices.

Although public interest in racial profiling research has increased considerably, the vast majority of studies have relied on survey or official data to document the frequency of stops experienced by members of various racial groups.3 Thus, many researchers have faced difficulty in determining whether minority citizens are being

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