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Race and attitudes toward police: the mediating effect of social distance

Joongyeup Lee (School of Public Affairs, Pennsylvania State University, Middletown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Jennifer C. Gibbs (Penn State Harrisburg)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 18 May 2015




Given the consistent finding in the literature that members of minority groups hold less favorable views of the police than white citizens, social distance may be an important, yet untested, mediator. The purpose of this paper is to examine the mediating effect of social distance net of other established correlates.


A sample of students attending a university in the northeastern USA completed an online survey in 2013. The survey was about their contact with the police, attitudes toward the police, and lifestyles, among others.


Race, along with other predictors, significantly influenced confidence in police. However, race is the only factor that turns nonsignificant when social distance is included in the model. Mediation tests confirmed that social distance mediates the relationship between race and confidence in the police.

Research limitations/implications

To maximize confidence in the police, administrators should focus on closing the social distance between the public and the police through initiatives like community policing.


While there is extensive research on public attitudes toward the police, social distance has been neglected as a determinant, despite movements like community policing that promote citizens’ relational closeness to the police – that is, to decrease the social distance between police and the public. The current study would be an exploratory study and reference for future studies.



The authors thank Hoon Lee, PhD at the Chosun University in South Korea, for sharing the survey instrument and conceptual ideas for this study.


Lee, J. and Gibbs, J.C. (2015), "Race and attitudes toward police: the mediating effect of social distance", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 314-332.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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