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Examining the relationship between police experiences and perceptions of police bias

Brian C. Renauer (Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA)
Emma Covelli (Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 23 August 2011




This paper aims to use three theoretical perspectives to understand variation in public opinion regarding the frequency with which police use race/ethnicity unfairly in making stops: procedural and instrumental justice, local government responsiveness, and intra‐racial differences.


The paper looks at data from a telephone survey of 1,431 Oregon residents: 741 from a stratified state‐wide random sample by county; 164 African‐Americans and 161 Hispanics over samples.


Perceived negative treatment during recent involuntary police contacts is related to a perception that police are more biased. Instrumental judgments regarding local government responsiveness to constituent needs and personal safety showed a negative relationship to perceptions of police bias. African‐American respondents exhibited the strongest police bias opinions; however, intra‐racial analyses showed that perceptions of government responsiveness weaken bias perceptions across race/ethnicity.

Research limitations/implications

Research needs to explore how the public's relationship to their local government influences perceptions of police. The conclusions of the study are limited by the cross‐sectional design.

Practical implications

The study illustrates that proper police‐citizen communication tactics, stop and investigatory procedures, and ethical decision making should continue to be reinforced along with better promotion of local government and police success in meeting constituent needs through the media.


The paper examines the influence of both procedural and instrumental justice perceptions, and voluntary and involuntary police contacts. The sample contains sufficient numbers of African‐Americans and Hispanics and diverse communities (urban, suburban, and rural) to gain a representative view.



Renauer, B.C. and Covelli, E. (2011), "Examining the relationship between police experiences and perceptions of police bias", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 497-514.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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