Date of Award

Summer 2000

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Judi Caron Sheppard

Committee Member

James A. Nolan

Committee Member

Victoria M. Time

Committee Member

Ingrid P. Whitaker


This study analyzed several factors to determine their influence on the public's perceptions of the police use of excessive force or police brutality. Conflict theory and cognitive consistency theory were used to conceptualize the perceptions of police brutality. Based on these theories, five hypotheses were predicted. Secondary data from a 1995 National Opinion Survey of Crime and Justice were re-analyzed. The data provide 1,005 respondents for the analyses. Analyses were performed at the bivariate and multivariate level.

Findings from the bivariate analysis show that Blacks were three (3) times more likely than Whites to perceive the police use of excessive force as a serious problem. Low socioeconomic status respondents held the same views.

Multivariate analyses were performed using the independent variables (socioeconomic status, police-citizen contact, confidence in the police and fear of crime and victimization) as intervening variables to determine if they could interpret the previously observed relationship between race and views of police brutality. Findings indicate that race explained only a small proportion (4 percent) of the variation in the perceptions of the police use of excessive force. The other independent or intervening variables did not have an effect on the relationship. Each independent or intervening variable added to the model, increased the percent of explained variance of respondents' perceptions. While race remained significant, contact with the police, and confidence in the police are the most important factors determining respondents' attitudes toward the police use of excessive force.


A Thesis Submitted to the Faculties of Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of Master of Arts in Applied Sociology.


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