Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Daniel K. Pryce

Committee Member

Mica Deckard

Committee Member

Randy Gainey

Committee Member

Jennifer E. Cobbina-Dungy


Scholars have long documented the negative relationship between police and communities of color. While these findings are of great importance, research remains limited on how connected police officers are to social justice movements (e.g., Black Lives Matter, or BLM for short) and the purposes behind why they exist. Furthermore, many studies focusing on police officer experiences tend to examine officer experiences with protesters, with limited studies focusing on their experiences with other officers during civil unrest and on the factors that influence their participation in protest movements when off duty. To help fill this gap, this study utilized semi-structured interviews with police officers from two police departments located in a rural area and an urban area, respectively, to learn more about the workplace climate at police agencies during civil unrest. Additionally, the study explored if factors such as race impact police officers’ comfortability in discussing BLM within the workplace, how connected they are to the issues addressed by this movement, and their participation in BLM protesting when off duty.

This dissertation attempted to answer four questions: (1) How do police officers experience the workplace during times of civil unrest? (2) What influences police officers’ participation in social justice protest movements? (3) What do police officers perceive to be the effect of their decision when faced with the opportunity to participate in social protest movements? (4) To what extent does race impact officers’ experiences and participation in social justice movements? From data analysis, four themes were found from the rural police department, which included (1) police officer-first mentality among officers, (2) general lack of knowledge about BLM among White officers, (3) conflicting attitudes about BLM protesting based on duty status, and (4) negative impact of news coverage on officers’ perception toward BLM. For the urban police department, three themes were found, which included (1) racial tensions among officers during civil unrest, (2) varying levels of support for BLM protesting and mobilization, with many officers showing dissatisfaction with work schedules during the unrest, and (3) racial differences in promoting BLM at the workplace and in the community. A discussion of these results is included, as well as implications for police departments, the media, and the Black Lives Matter organization.


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