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Cops and the College Crowd: Young Adults and Perceptions of Police in a College Town

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 26 Issue: 2 Dated: 2003 Pages: 125-151
L. Susan Williams; Stacey Nofziger
Date Published
27 pages
This study examined the attitudes toward police officers held by college students versus the general public and explored the interactions between age, subgroup/cultural adaptation, and anti-authority orientation.
Most researchers and practitioners agree that trust between police and the community is paramount to an effective police force in terms of crime control and police legitimacy. Previous studies have indicated that citizens’ attitudes toward police officers affect feelings of community safety and cohesion. This study looked specifically at differences between college students and the general public in their attitudes toward police officers and feelings of safety. Data were collected in a Midwest college town in October 2001. Telephone interviews were completed with 212 general citizens and 89 college students. The questionnaire contained items regarding satisfaction with police, experiences of victimization, feelings of community safety, and personal contact with police officers. Results of statistical analyses indicate that college students experienced a diminished trust in police officers; this effect remained when age was controlled. Students were twice as likely as citizens to report feeling unsafe. Police contact had no mitigating effect on college students’ attitudes toward police. Differences in attitudes toward police were also noted between men and women and Whites and Blacks. The results indicate that even within small, homogeneous communities, subgroup identity may impact feelings of safety within the community. In closing, the authors suggest that co-sponsored programs between the university and the police department would help develop more accurate perceptions of one another. Tables, notes, references, appendix