Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Heather McGee
Dr. Alyce Dickinson
Dr. Ron Van Houten
Dr. Charles Crawford
Public safety, policing, perceptions of police, public safety interventions, police reform, defund police
The present study sought to help investigate which public safety interventions may be appropriate for improving the safety and quality of life of Benton Harbor community members. To begin answering this question, researchers collected baseline measures of community attitudes toward police (ATP). St. Joseph residents were sampled to allow for a direct comparison of two sister cities within the same county, with nearly opposite racial and economic characteristics.
To obtain these data, surveys were administered to both Benton Harbor and St. Joseph community members. There were nine demographic/predictor variables included in the community perception survey. The variables were (a) location, (b) crime victimization, (c) age, (d) gender, (e) race, (f) political affiliation, (g) annual household income, (h) educational attainment, and (i) police contacts. Resident perceptions of police were measured using five constructs: (a) procedural justice, (b) legitimacy, (c) bias, (d) relatability, and (e) willingness to partner with police. Participant responses were gathered using direct mail, an online form, intercept sampling, and door to door canvassing.
The results indicated that citizen attitudes toward police were more negative in Benton Harbor compared to St. Joseph. Despite overall negative perceptions of police, Benton Harbor community members indicated an elevated willingness to partner with police to report a crime.
The most consistent predictors of attitudes toward police were race, political affiliation, and satisfaction with police contact. The crime and ATP results from Benton Harbor suggest that public safety stakeholders may benefit from community/police reconciliation interventions. However, the historical limitations of reconciliation and police reform interventions suggest broader systemic interventions may be necessary to produce and sustain improved public safety outcomes.
Molina, Brian, "Community Attitudes toward Police in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan" (2021). Dissertations. 3736.