One Scale Fits All? Assessing Racial Differences in the Measurement of Attitudes toward the Police

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Race & Justice




Research consistently shows that minorities have less confidence in the police and perceive less procedural justice during encounters than Whites. This work generally concludes that the differences in perceptions by race are due to actual differences in attitudes, then proceeds to explore the origins of these differences. However, scholarly work has not yet explored the possibility that this finding is related to how members of different racial groups answer and interpret questions about the police; in other words, how measurement properties of scales may contribute to these differences. Using data from the National Police Research Platform’s Police–Community Interaction Survey, we conduct analyses to assess the reliability and validity of two measures of attitudes toward the police and assess differential item functioning (DIF) by race using Rasch analysis. Our findings reveal that few items from the procedural justice scale indicated DIF. All other items comprising the confidence in the police and procedural justice scales exhibited no differential functioning by race, indicating that the historic finding of variation in attitudes toward police by race are likely due to real differences rather than measurement error.