Selye Lee

Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

John A. Lewis, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jennifer L. Gossett, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Erika Frenzel, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Jon A. Cooper, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

W. Timothy Austin, Ph.D.


Understanding the public’s attitudes toward the police has been at the forefront of recent reform efforts because police organizations face growing governmental and public demands to deal with allegations of discrimination against minorities and of police misconduct. Increasing public confidence in law enforcement and enhancing relations between the police and the public has garnered the attention of criminal justice researchers and practitioners. The current study aims to extend our understanding of attitudes toward the police by examining how college students perceive the police and their services. Numerous variables have been identified from reviewing prior research as major predictors of perceptions of the police. However, the empirical research into attitudes towards the police is limited primarily to studies of adult populations even though the respondents’ age appears to be positively associated with the public’s opinions about the police. Only a handful of studies have been conducted about attitudes toward the police using college students as the sample.

This study fills this gap in the empirical literature by surveying college students at a medium-sized, state-funded university in northwestern Pennsylvania concerning their attitudes and opinions of law enforcement in terms of police practices, services, performance, and effectiveness. The current study tests propositions about the interplay among demographic characteristics, police-student interaction, and neighborhood context. The study also examines the effects of informal contact with police through attendance at a police hosted the “use of deadly force” training class and a “shoot, don’t shoot” simulation exercise. The results suggest that, similar to other policing research, race, major, contact experience with the police (personal and vicarious), and perceived neighborhood crime variables were key predictors of attitudes toward the police among college students. The findings also indicate the impact of attending the “use of deadly force” classroom training and attending a “shoot, don’t shoot” simulation training on individual attitudes toward the police. Specifically, the “use of deadly force” classroom training enhanced police support among college students. Policy implications are addressed as well as this study’s limitations, along with directions for future research in this area.