Police-Suspect Interaction and Racial Bias

Most multiracial societies and more especially the United States of America are grappling with the issue of relations between the police and minority groups. Various incidents of racial discrimination meted on the minority groups by the police have been reported in the recent past. Such incidents are critical in defining the relations between minority groups and the police. There are also documented pieces of evidence regarding various racial perceptions of the police. These studies show that minority groups such as African Americans and the Hispanics harbor most negative views about the police compared to the majority of whites (Weitzer and Tuch, 2004). Race is therefore considered as one of the salient features that predict people’s attitudes towards the police.  This paper’s research question will be; how do suspect’s race influence police-suspect interaction and how does race influence people’s attitudes towards the police?

Studies have shown that, in the United States of America, various policing outcomes are influenced by suspect race. For instance, arrest rates, police interactions, and criminal sentencing are often influenced by suspect race (Kahn, Steele, McMahon, Stewart, 2016).  According to Steele et al, minority groups especially black males are often engaged in disproportionate interactions with the police. Such disproportionate interactions include pedestrian stops and traffic stops.  Studies also show that suspect race influences the police’s application of lethal and non-lethal force. According to studies, there are racial disparities in the application of force. It is, however, important to establish whether these racial disparities are caused by non-racial situations such as neighborhood characteristics or racial attitudes from the police (Khan et al., 2016).

Khan et al (2016) find that police interaction with a suspect and the application of force is affected by stereotypes and racial bias. Studies have shown that the broader American society and its entire justice system stereotypes African Americans and Latinos as criminals, dangerous and aggressive. Police officers are also aware and hold these racial stereotypes. These racial stereotypes, therefore, influence the police’s interactions with African Americans as well as influencing their decisions to use force (Khan et al., 2016). Studies have shown that racial stereotypes are automatically activated when police interact with a racial minority suspect for the first time. For instance, when a police officer interacts with a black citizen, he may perceive him in light of the criminal stereotype. This stereotype may inform the police’s subsequent action (Khan et al., 2016).

According to studies, police officers apply force on during early interactions with racial minorities because they anticipate resistance or noncompliance from the suspects. They, therefore, feel the need to take charge earlier so as to control the situation (Khan et al., 2016). Following the anticipation of resistance, the police officer may feel threatened. This perception of threat may lead to a racially biased interaction which at the end leads to the application of severe force. The application of force on suspect resisting arrest, however, varies depending on the suspect’s race. For instance, studies show that more force is applied on Black and Latinos resisting arrest than when whites resist (Khan et al., 2016). The officer’s use of severe force on Blacks and Latinos is because officers view their resistance as more threatening and dangerous. The use of force may be also due to racial bias on Blacks and Latinos, officers, however, use resistance as a justification for using greater force on Blacks and Latinos as punishment for noncompliance (Khan et al., 2016).

Individuals’ racial or ethnical background plays a greater role in determining their perception of the police. Studies have shown that African Americans and Hispanics view the police more negatively than their White counterparts. African Americans and Hispanics are also more likely to believe that police officers have racially discriminated them (Weitzer and Brunson, 2015). For instance, findings from the 2006 national survey show that 43%, 26%, and 3% of Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites respectively, believed that they were stopped by the police officers because of their race. The study also finds that 34%, 20%, and 13% of Blacks, Hispanic, and Whites respectively believed that the police had stopped them without any good reason. According to the study, Blacks and Hispanics reported having suffered more verbal and physical abuse from police officers than the Whites (Weitzer and Brunson, 2015).

According to Weitzer and Brunson, traffic stops of minority groups are not motivated by normal events t as speeding or other driving infractions but are rather made in the pretext of uncovering other offenses such as such as the possession of illegal drugs or weapons. These stops are therefore not normal traffic stops but rather investigative stops. Studies have shown that young black males are the most victims of such investigatory stops (Weitzer and Brunson, 2015). Racial disparities also continue after individuals have been stopped by the police. Studies show that an individual’s race influences an officer’s decision whether or not to search the individual. For instance, the 2008 national survey reports that black drivers were more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than Hispanic and white drivers. The study also found that more Black students reported having been victims of disrespectful treatment from the police during traffic stops. The study also established that questions about immigration statuses preceded the traffic stops on 5% of Hispanics (Weitzer and Brunson, 2015).

In contrast to the Blacks’ negative view of the police, Whites tend to hold a more positive view of the police. This perception, however, holds a racial dimension (Weitzer and Tuch, 2004). For instance, more Whites perceive Blacks as criminals or violent. Most whites, therefore, believe that intensifying law enforcement against minority groups is equivalent to controlling and combating crime. Most whites are therefore against the assertion that minority groups are mistreated by the police. They feel that by accepting that the police racially mistreat minority groups, it will give credence to reforms which will slow down crime control and therefore threatening them. in most cases, whites are therefore dismissive of allegations of racial misconducts by the police on minority groups (Weitzer and Tuch, 2004).

The issue of racial disparity against minority groups and people’s negative perception about the police can, however, be minimized by deploying minority officers or same-race police in minority neighborhoods. The concept of deploying minority officers in such neighborhoods will be successful because minority officers have a greater understanding of the community’s cultural norms. Most importantly the community will easily accept minority officers unlike in the case of non-minority officers. Same-race police will, therefore, be effective in reducing crimes because it leads to greater willingness of victims to report crimes, it will also attract community cooperation which will make it easy to solve cases. Most importantly, by using the same-race police, the number of unjustified arrests and harassments will also decline (Donohue III, Levitt, 2001).

In conclusion, race and policing is a major polarizing issue in the United States of America. Individuals’ racial orientation plays a significant role in informing their perception about the police. Studies show that minority groups such as African Americans largely hold a negative view of the police. Conversely, Whites hold a largely positive view of the police. Studies also show that minority races are victims of police discrimination, mistreatment, and harassment. According to studies, racial discrepancies are informed through stereotype believes that Blacks are criminals, dangerous, and aggressive.


Donohue III, J., " Levitt, S. (2001). The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests. The Journal of Law and Economics, 44(2), 367-394. doi:10.1086/322810

Kahn, K. B., Steele, J. S., McMahon, J. M., " Stewart, G. (2016). How suspect race affects police use of force in an interaction over time. Law and Human Behavior, 41(2), 117-126. doi:10.1037/lhb0000218

Weitzer, R., " Brunson, R. K. (2015). Policing Different Racial Groups in the United States. Cahiers Politiestudies, 2(35), 129-145.

WEITZER, R., " TUCH, S. A. (2004). Race and Perceptions of Police Misconduct. Social Problems, 51(3), 305-325. doi:10.1525/sp.2004.51.3.305

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