Stereotypes are knowledge structures incorporating assumptions regarding specific qualities and features linked to particular social groups. They usually have negative connotations and fail to reflect the truth about individuals from diverse, multicultural backgrounds. Since stereotyping means implicit biasing against people based on their gender, race, and other characteristics, it adversely affects one’s attitudes toward others and interferes with the establishment of trustful and constructive relationships.
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The problem of stereotyping is particularly significant in multicultural societies and in those professions that imply interactions with multiple individuals on a daily basis. Therefore, biases held by police officers in the United States decrease the effectiveness of law enforcement, one of the critical components in the criminal justice system, and minimize the opportunity for building efficient police-community partnerships. Due to this, there is a need to find and implement effective ways to decrease the degree of police stereotyping.
Overall, the rate of open discrimination by police officers has significantly declined over time, and there is no doubt that a vast majority of them strive to be fair when treating citizens. Nevertheless, Coon (2016) notes that the role of hidden multicultural bias in influencing decisions is frequently overlooked in police departments. One of the main reasons for this is staff members’ limited personal experiences of interacting with ethnically and racially diverse individuals (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2016).
The unfamiliarity with distinct cultures automatically contributes to stereotyping because, with its help, the human brain aims to reduce cognitive gaps. However, police stereotyping produces such issues as racial disparities in various law enforcement activities. For instance, evidence provided by Weir (2016) and Cole et al. (2016) reveals that African Americans and Hispanics are stopped by police officers more frequently than White individuals.
Moreover, statistical data demonstrate that the level of Black civilian’s involvement in police shootings across the country is much higher, whereas the likelihood of being shot by an officer for an unarmed Black person is greater by 3.5 times (Weir, 2016). Such an adverse situation creates mutual tensions among civilians and police personnel and makes it difficult for racial minorities to trust the police. In its turn, the lack of trust decreases the chance that an individual will refer to police officers when witnessing a crime or after becoming a victim of a crime.
In response to the abovementioned problems, many police departments launched diversity programs. In general, diversity training aims to foster more productive, respectful, and positive intergroup interactions and decrease discrimination based on multicultural characteristics. Nevertheless, the outcomes of such an approach have been controversial so far. For example, the findings of the study by Zimny (2015) reveal no difference in institutional and overt racial prejudices and stereotyping before and after a short-term diversity training carried out in one of the Midwest police academies.
Notably, the inefficiency of curriculum design and delivery methods could be the primary factor that contributed to poor outcomes in that setting. As Zimny (2015) concludes, to lead diversity education to success, there must be devotion to multicultural training at the institutional and organization wide-levels. In other words, police departments and academies must integrate diversity values into their corporate cultures and show persistence in striving to implement them in practice. However, the realization of effective diversity programs may be complicated because it requires a significant amount of time and money, yet it is valid to presume that police administration often prioritizes other problems during decision-making regarding investments.
Diversification of personnel within the agency is another potentially effective solution to the matter of police stereotyping. Coon (2016) states that there is an evident lack of multicultural diversity within the police force. At the same time, it is observed that “minority residents tend to prefer a police force that is racially balanced, yet it can be a challenge for agencies to attract minority applicants” (Coon, 2016, p. 116). Possibly, representatives of minority groups may often not want to be involved in the police because they have hostile attitudes to it and maybe afraid to be regarded as traitors by their similar others.
According to Weir (2016), one of the ways to improve this situation and also circumvent biases is the police-community collaboration. For instance, it is suggested for police departments to organize meetings, surveys, focus group interviews, and other activities as part of community policing to enhance the patterns of officers’ interactions with the neighborhood residents (Weir, 2016). Expected outcomes of such an initiative are the development of mutual understanding between police personnel and communities where they serve and a consequent increase in trust.
Overall, stereotyping is one of the major barriers to police effectiveness because it induces tensions and hostility between officers and civilians and thus interferes with their smooth collaboration. The main difficulty with stereotyping is that many people are often not even aware of their own multicultural biases and do not see how they covertly affect their decisions and relationships with others.
To minimize the likelihood of negative consequences due to implicit police stereotyping and to reduce racial disparities during law enforcement activities, it is pivotal to engage officers in long-term diversity training, improve the multicultural composition of the workforce, create supportive and inclusive corporate cultures and, more importantly, enhance police-collaboration with a purpose of developing mutual trust. It is valid to conclude that the best solutions are those that address the root of the problem, namely, the lack of multicultural experiences. Thus, by providing team members with more opportunities to consciously interact with racial-minority individuals, it will be possible to increase their cultural competence and avoid negative outcomes.
Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & DeJong, C. (2016). Criminal justice in America (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Coon, J. K. (2016). Police officers’ attitudes toward diversity issues: Comparing supervisors and non-supervisors on multicultural skills, values, and training. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 18(2), 115-125.
Weir, K. (2016). Policing in black & white. Monitor on Psychology, 47(11), 36.
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Zimny, K. (2015). Racial attitudes of police recruits at the United States Midwest police academy: A second look. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 10(1), 91-101.