Latino Police Officers: Negotiating the Police Role

Dawn Irlbeck, University of Nebraska at Omaha

ABSTRACT
Civil rights leaders and community groups argue that the increased employment of Latino police officers will improve the quality of police services to Latino communities. This claim is based on the assumption that Latino officers are more supportive of, and better qualified to meet the needs of the Latino community, and that they share a unified vision of their role in the Latino community. Through in-depth interviews with the complete population (100%) of sworn Latino officers in Omaha, NE (N=34) this study investigates the officers' attitudes regarding their ethnic identification and their experiences policing in the Latino community. Contrary to public policy assumptions, the officers do not share a common ethnic identity. While a majority of the officers express a strong Latino identity, approximately one in five identify with both Latinos and Anglos, and a small number identify exclusively as "white." Socio-demographic factors relevant to identity formation are examined and assessed for their explanatory value. Also contrary to public policy assumptions, the officers do not share a common vision of their role in the Latino community. About half of the officers integrate their cultural knowledge and sensitivities into their police role, while the other half enacts a primarily traditional police role.

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Updated 05/20/2006