U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Reforming the Police: Racial Differences in Public Support for Change

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 42 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2004 Pages: 391-416
Date Published
May 2004
26 pages

This study investigated reforming the police with regard to racial differences in public support for change.


Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe that the criminal justice system should operate without racial bias and favor Federal Government intervention to ensure equal treatment by the police and courts. This study examined three types of reform: racial diversification, accountability, and sensitive policing. Using data from a recent national survey, this study reports public attitudes towards several specific reforms in policing. Findings indicate first, that race is a predictor of citizen attitudes toward the police and other criminal justice institutions. African-Americans and Hispanics are the most supportive of reform. Second, support for reform is strongly affected by the perceived frequency of police misconduct. Respondents who believe that police corruption, unwarranted stops, and verbal and physical abuse of citizens are common are more likely to favor reforms. The same is true for those who are frequently exposed to news media coverage of incidents of police misconduct. These findings are consistent with the group-position theory of race-relations. Intensive sensitivity training and greater monitoring may help to improve policing practices overall and reduce specific kinds of malpractice, while other reforms, such as, hiring more officers, may appear to be symbolically more important, and may improve public confidence in a department. Table, references, appendix

Date Published: May 1, 2004