Civilian perceptions of police: A thematic analysis of non-physical encounters with law enforcement

Travonne Edwards, Tanya L. Sharpe, Camisha Sibblis, Megan McPolland, Antonia Bonomo, Jordan DeVylder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Literature pertaining to civilian-police relations within the United States primarily focuses on unjust physical treatment of civilians by law enforcement. However, research examining the ways in which adverse nonphysical encounters with law enforcement influence perceptions of police and compromise their relationship with civilians is less prevalent. This study utilizes a thematic approach to analyze 252 participants open-ended responses from the Police–Public Encounters survey. The Police–Public Encounters survey was designed to investigate the prevalence, demographic distribution, and psychological correlates of police victimization from adults across four US cities (Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC), to understand their most notably adverse encounter with police. Study findings revealed four themes: 1) direct and indirect experiences of racial profiling, 2) fear and intimidation, 3) unjust treatment, and 4) poor quality of service. Findings highlight the relationship between nonphysical encounters with police and notions of procedural justice that influence civilian-police interactions. Implications for future research should continue to explore citizens’ perceptions of police as well as police perceptions of their encounters with civilians to examine how this may affect their ability to serve and protect communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-778
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2023


  • Controversial
  • United States
  • encounters
  • perceptions
  • police

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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