Crime Victims Don’t Report If They Don’t Trust Cops: Study

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Crime victims’ perceptions that they will be treated unfairly or not taken seriously by the police reduce the probability of them reporting offenses to law enforcement by 11 percent, according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Criminal Justice.

The study was authored by Hyounggon Kwaka, a criminal justice professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; Rick Dierenfeldt, a social, cultural and justice studies professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and Susan McNeeley, a research analyst at Minnesota Department of Corrections.

The authors analyzed a portion of the Seattle Neighborhoods and Crime Survey (SNCS) that centered on crime victimization, which was conducted in 2002–2003. The sample for the current study was limited to the 687 respondents who identified as being victims of non-sexual violent crime within two years prior to taking the survey.

Participants were asked if they had been “physically attacked, beaten up, or threatened” in the past two years.If they had, they were asked a series of questions about the most recent assault victimization.

They were also asked to indicate whether they agreed that police treat wealthy people better than poor people, white people better than African Americans, Asians and Hispanics, and English-speaking people better than non-English speaking people.

Approximately 40 percent of the assault victims reported the incident to the law enforcement, and according to the researchers’ analysis, perceived that procedural injustice had a negative impact on participants’ decision to report the crimes. Black victims were especially less likely to report crime when their distrust of police effectiveness was higher.

“It is possible that vicarious experiences with the police acquired from family, peers, and neighbors resonate among black residents, exacerbating negative views of police,” the researchers write.

Furthermore, non-injured victims with greater perceptions of procedural injustice were less likely to report their victimizations to the police. However, injured victims were more likely to call the police, despite maintaining heightened perceptions of procedural injustice.

The researchers say their findings have practical and theoretical implications.

“First, police agencies should focus on policies and practices that lend themselves to procedural fairness,” the researchers write. “Simply stated, police practices should be designed to avoid potential negative consequences during police-citizen interactions, including conflict/resistance, violation of citizens’ constitutional rights, and police use of excessive force.”

The study supports previous studies indicating that crime victims don’t report offenses because they don’t trust police. A recent study, for example, found that though hate crimes are surging globally, they remain underreported in part because victims lack trust in law enforcement.

A full copy of the current study can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR contributing writer.

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