The Relationship Between Police Officers' Racial Attitudes and Their On-the-Job Behavior

Awarded Scholars:
Michael P. Murray, Bates College
Michael J. Sargent, Bates College
Project Date:
Jul 2006
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

While blatant discrimination and racial harassment are stymied by strong social norms, a stealthier form of racism persists in America today. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 55 percent of white and 83 percent of black Americans believe that racial profiling is widespread. This may be seen as a first step on a long path that leads young men of color to high rates of incarceration and low levels of trust in public authorities.


With funding from the Foundation, Michael P. Murray and Michael J. Sargent will study the relationship between police officers’ racial attitudes and their on the job behavior. They will ask whether the officers’ attitudes account for the racial distribution of drivers they pull over, as well as those they stop and search. In addition, the investigators will use a computer simulation of potentially life-threatening situations to test how individual officers respond when dealing with whites and blacks in potentially dangerous situations. The Kansas City Police Department has agreed to provide data on the race of drivers stopped and searched, including a record of the officer, the time and location of the stop, and the race and ethnicity of the stopped driver. In addition, Murray and Sargent will interview 500 Kansas City police officers, administering tests of explicit and implicit racial attitudes to see how they correlate with the officers’ decisions to stop and search the vehicles of black and white drivers.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.