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Perceptions of Police Legitimacy and Bias from Ages 13 to 22 Among Black, Latino, and White Justice-Involved Males

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 45 Issue: 3 Dated: 2021 Pages: 243-255
Date Published
13 pages

Although researchers, policymakers, and practitioners recognize the importance of the public’s perceptions of police, the current study examined developmental trends in adolescents and young adults’ views of police.


The study used longitudinal data from the Crossroads Study, which examined within-person trends in males’ perceptions of police legitimacy from ages 13 to 22, as well as whether perceptions of police bias were associated with perceptions of police legitimacy. The three hypotheses were 1) Perceptions of police legitimacy would exhibit a U-shaped curve, declining in adolescence before improving in young adulthood; 2) At all ages, Black youth would report more negative perceptions of police legitimacy than Latino youth, who would report more negative perceptions than White youth; and 3) Perceptions of police bias would be consistently associated with worse perceptions of police legitimacy. The study found that perceptions of police legitimacy followed a U-shaped curve that declined during adolescence, reached its lowest point around age 18, and improved during the transition to young adulthood. Compared with White youth, Latino and Black youth had shallower curves in perceptions of police legitimacy that exhibited less improvement during the transition to adulthood. Further, perceptions of police bias were consistently associated with more negative perceptions of police legitimacy across races and ages. The study concluded that although perceptions of police legitimacy may decline during adolescence before improving during the transition to adulthood, perceptions of police bias are consistently negatively related to youth and young adults’ perceptions of police legitimacy. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2021