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“They Can’t Search Her”: How Gender Imbalances in the Police Force Contribute to Perceptions of Procedural Unfairness

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  • Madeleine Novich, Manhattan College, Bronx, NY , United States
  • Anne Li Kringen, University of new Haven, West Haven, CT, United States
  • Geoffrey Hunt

Research suggests that gender imbalances in police forces can significantly affect individuals’ experiences when interacting with police. Of importance, yet rarely examined, is the extent to which predominantly male police forces, in conjunction with adherence to gendered departmental policies, can simultaneously send signals of procedural justice and procedural injustice. Drawing on data from 253 in-depth interviews of San Francisco–based male and female drug-dealing gang members, we investigated how interactions with a male-dominated police force, who were required to search only suspects of the same gender, affected perceptions of fair policing. Our findings revealed that the study participants raised concerns that the police unfairly enforced the law to the detriment of the men in the study. The gang members were aware that male officers could only search same-sex suspects and this exacerbated the gendered experiences of the gang members. Specifically, it contributed to the perception that male officers targeted male gang members to the omission of women and, if women were stopped, they were frequently released. These findings suggest that the gender composition of the police force is important in shaping attitudes toward equitable enforcement of the law and procedural fairness. Of theoretical importance, these findings highlight a contradiction that compliance with rules can contribute, counter intuitively, to perceptions of procedural injustice. Procedurally unfair police behavior may be a systemic problem where the gender composition of the police force itself creates an inherently unfair system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFeminist Criminology
Pages (from-to)260-286
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • female police, gang members, gender and policing, policing, procedural justice

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