To trust or not to trust: Examining trust and perceptions of police in the United States

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2023-08
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Cabage, LeAnn Nicole
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Hochstetler, Andrew
Shelley, Mack
Burgason, Kyle
DeLisi, Matthew
Behnken, Monic
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Sociology
Abstract
The trust between people of color and law enforcement is marked by conflict. From the early history of slavery to the convict lease system to modern day, the American system of justice failed communities and people of color. This historical relationship combined with the acquittals or the failure to charge in police abuse of force incidents, such as Alton Sterling has contributed to the erosion in the level of trust individuals have in law enforcement. This dissertation examines the factors that contribute to the level of trust one has in law enforcement. These factors include race, age, gender, education level, and political leaning. In addition, the study examines the relationship between the decline in other forms of institutional trust, such as political trust and media trust. The final purpose of the dissertation is to determine if an individual’s level of police trust combined with other variables determines who believes a police shooting is justified or not. The findings indicate men, younger individuals, and those with lower levels of education are more likely to have higher levels of political trust. Media trust is predicted by age. Older individuals are more likely to have higher levels of media trust. Police trust is predicted by gender, race, age, and education. Men, whites, younger individuals, and those with lower levels of education are more likely to trust the police. Additionally, the findings conclude that Seyd political trust, police trust, and political leaning are significant predictors of who is most likely to believe police corruption is systemic. Individuals with lower levels of police trust are more likely to believe police corruption is systemic. The more liberal leaning an individual is, the more likely they are to believe police corruption is a systemic issue. Individuals with lower levels of political trust are more likely to believe police corruption is a systemic issue. Examining whether other forms of trust predict police trust, the findings indicate police trust is positively related to both measures of political trust. The relationship between police trust and media trust is negative. The final research question asks whether trust and predictors of trust shape interpretations of police shootings. Although not significant, those who have higher levels of police and political trust are more likely to believe the force used against Alton Sterling is justified. Having lower levels of media trust is a significant predictor. That is, those who have lower levels of media trust are less likely to believe the force was justified. Conservative leaning individuals are more likely than liberal leaning individuals to believe the force is justified. Finally, men and white individuals are more likely to believe the force is justified. These findings add to the existing knowledge and provide valuable insight for future research.
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