Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Joshua Hinkle

Second Advisor

Scott Jacques

Third Advisor

Win-Yi Chan


Police-community interactions became a highly publicized topic in the United States following several recent police-involved shootings. Previous research shows several factors predict attitudes and behaviors toward police, including neighborhood context, race, offender status, and experiencing procedural justice. Contact with actors in the criminal justice system can begin at a young age. Based on these issues, the current study focused on two primary research questions: What are youth’s perceptions of police legitimacy? What experiences have shaped those understandings? Using semi-structured interviews with a sample of 28 youth ages 13-17 from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods, the current study sought to identify the ways young people conceptualize police legitimacy and rationalize the attitudes they hold. The study explored how direct and indirect experiences as well as acculturation shape youths’ understandings of the police and policing.