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Officer Diversity Reduces Black Americans’ Fear of the Police

Published onOct 09, 2022
Officer Diversity Reduces Black Americans’ Fear of the Police
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Officer Diversity Reduces Black Americans’ Fear of the Police

Most Black Americans are afraid of the police. This fear is consequential, adversely affecting their health, social lives, school performance, willingness to call the police, and interactions with officers. Improving police-civilian relations and reducing Black Americans’ fear is therefore critical. Among the most prominently proposed policing reforms is police racial and gender diversification. However, there is little experimental evidence about the effects of officer diversity, and the existing non-experimental evidence is mixed. Using a nationwide sample (N = 1,100) that included comparable numbers of Black and non-Black respondents (N = 511 and 589, respectively), we tested the effects of officer diversity in two methodologically dissimilar survey experiments, producing four key findings. First, in early 2022, nearly two years after George Floyd’s killing, most Black Americans remained afraid of the police. Second, in a conjoint experiment where respondents were presented with 11,000 officer profiles that randomly varied on seven attributes, including race and sex, Black Americans were less afraid when the officers were non-White (Black or Hispanic/Latino) instead of White and were female instead of male. Third, in a separate experiment with pictured police teams wherein each officer’s race and sex were randomized, Black Americans were less afraid of being mistreated by non-White and female officers. Finally, experimental evidence emerged that body-worn cameras (BWC), when civilians were aware of them, reduced fear of the police among both Black and non-Black respondents. These findings strongly support calls to diversify police agencies and to require officers to wear and notify civilians of BWC.


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