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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Traffic stop encounters: officer and citizen race and perceptions of police propriety
Article Type: Perspectives on policing From: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 35, Issue 4.
Christopher HugginsAmerican Journal of Criminal Justice2012Vol. 37Issue 1pp. 92-110
This study examined citizens’ reports of their traffic stop encounters with police. Using a racial dyad modeling approach, the author analyzed whether police acted properly during traffic stop and whether specific officer and citizen race dyads affect how people view police actions. Research has established that the officer's race is influential in traffic stop disposition and how citizens view the encounter. Research has also established that the driver's race impacts the result of the encounter and attitudes about the police. This study, similar to death penalty sentencing research, examined the racial dyad between officer and citizen. Specifically, this research explored the racial dyads and their influence on citizen perceptions of proper police behavior during traffic stop encounters. The author hypothesized that proper police behavior vary by officer/citizen race pairings.
The study used citizen reports collected from a nationally representative sample, included measures of combinations of officer and citizen race, and controlled for relevant traffic stop and extralegal factors. The sample was taken from “Contacts between police and the public: findings from the 1999 National Survey,” a nationally representative sample collected as a supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Of the 7,034 respondents who reported at least one traffic stop in which they were the driver in the previous 12 months, 6,301 were included in the final sample due to missing data.
The dependent variable was a dichotomous measure indicating a respondent's answer to the question: “Looking back at [this/the most recent] incident, do you feel the police behaved properly or improperly? (yes/no).” The main variables of interest were officer race, driver race, and officer/driver racial dyad (e.g. white/white, black/black). Control variables included, among others, number of officers present and the reason for the traffic stop.
The results of logistic regression analyses revealed interesting results. In the first model, officer race did not predict the reporting of improper police behavior. In the second model, black drivers were found to be 28 percent less likely to report proper police behavior than white drivers. In the final model, traffic stops involving both the black/white and the white/black officer/driver dyad are significantly less likely to result in the reporting of proper police behavior compared to the white/white dyad (reference category). Specifically, odds ratios indicated that black/white stops are 49 percent less likely to result in reports of proper police behavior, and white/black stops are 37 percent less likely to result in reports of proper police behavior.
The results of this research provide an important example of how citizens of different races differ in their view of police behavior. While most citizens in this sample, regardless of race, reported proper police behavior during traffic stops, the results demonstrate that there are certain officer/citizen race pairings that increase the possibility of dissatisfaction. In general, black citizens are less likely to proper police behavior during a traffic stop than white citizens. Based on these results, the author urges police administrators to implement policies that strengthen accountability and supervision of officers, establish explicit policies designed to eliminate racially biased policing, change recruitment and hiring practices, increase education and training, and reach out to minority communities to strengthen police-community relations.