CriminologyPolicingRacismSocial Theory

Do law enforcement agencies hold Fascist tendencies and Right-Wing views?


Source: Engin_Akyurt

This is a huge question. It could go a number of ways. But the general jist is as to whether Law enforcement agencies: (Police Officers, Community Service, Constables, etc). Tend to hold more fascist tendencies or Right Wing views in comparison to the general population. It could be that the selection process for police officers benefits individuals who hold ethnocentric views or that police culture makes people more authoritarian. Let’s see what the Social Scientists say.


Rather than ask whether members of law enforcement agencies lean towards the ‘alt-right’. Which arguably encompasses many kinds of groups) and fascism. I would ask whether they tend to embrace right-wing attitudes, beliefs and values to a high(er) degree. And, whether they tend to have personality traits such as right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation (SDO).

As Sidanius and colleagues explain:

Social dominance theory, as well as certain related models (e.g., group position and realistic group conflict theories; e.g., Blumer, 1961; Bobo, 1988; Spitzer, 1975). Would suggest police behavior, such as that exhibited during the King beating, is not only relatively typical of police departments around the country. But is also part of a mosaic of social mechanisms which help to establish and maintain hierarchical relationships among different social strata in society.

They also explain the following which is of interest to the topic:

[…] SDO is conceived of reflecting one’s desire for non-egalitarian relationships among social groups. In other words, SDO is a strongly group-oriented construct, and, as such, it has been shown to be strongly correlated with variables such as: racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, nationalism, and negative affect toward both real and minimal outgroups (Levin, 1992; Pratto et al., in press; Sidanius & Liu, 1992; Sidanius & Pratto, 1993).

Comparing members of the LAPD and of the county’s Public Defenders’ Office, they made the following conclusions:

First, even when restricting comparisons within the same general domain, such as the criminal justice system. It was found that those a priori classifiable by social dominance theory as hierarchy attenuators (i.e., public defenders) were significantly less dominance oriented than those classifiable as hierarchy enhancers (i.e., police officers).

Second, hierarchy attenuators were found to be significantly less social-dominance oriented than members of the general public (i.e., jurors).

Third, hierarchy enhancers [i.e. police officers] were found to be significantly more social-dominance oriented than members of the general public.

Fourth, members of the dominant ethnic group (i.e., Euro-Americans) were found to be significantly more dominance oriented than members of the subordinate ethnic group (i.e., African- and Hispanic- Americans). In addition, all of the above conclusions held even after controlling for demographic background variables, such as age, gender, ethnicity (when appropriate), social-class identification and income.

Haley and Sidanius summarized several findings in the literature pointing towards how police both attracts people who tend to be authoritarian and have high SDO and socializes people in that direction.

How aspiring police officers perceive trauma victims:

Along the same lines, Liebkind and Eränen(2001) found differences between nursing students and police academy students in terms of their attitudes toward fictional trauma victims (e.g. refugees, victims of shipwreck). In line with SDT expectations, however, these groups expressed divergent attitudes toward the fictional victims. Students of the police academy (in training for HE work) expressed relatively negative attitudes toward the victims, while nursing students (who were following an HA career track) expressed relatively positive attitudes.

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What career is attractive for students with higher SDO:

As expected, students’ levels of social dominance orientation were positively correlated with their liking for the HE careers [i.e. “government prosecutor, law enforcement officer, FBI agent, and big businessperson”] and negatively correlated with their liking for the HA careers—even after researchers controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and level of political conservatism.


Sidanius et al. (2003) found additional evidence of self-selection when they examined UCLA students’ attitudes as a function of their career aspirations. In this research, the authors generated lists of careers that could be clearly designated as either ‘HE careers’ or ‘HA careers’. Among the ‘HE careers’, they listed: economist; financial manager; military personnel; national security officer; and police officer […] As predicted, students who were attracted to ‘HE careers’ had significantly higher than average anti-egalitarianism scores than those who were attracted to ‘HA careers’. Even more striking was the temporal sequence of this relationship: students’ level of anti-egalitarianism was significantly predictive of their later interest—up to a year or more later—in ‘HE careers’ versus ‘HA careers’.

How the police promotes certain attitudes among its members:

As SDT would expect, this research largely suggests that the law enforcement system (an unambiguously HE organization) breeds anti-egalitarian, authoritarian, and xenophobic attitudes among police officers. Early work by McNamara (1967), for example, followed officers from the recruit stage through two years on the job. McNamara found that officers’ authoritarianism (which was positively correlated with endorsement of the use of force) increased across time.

And this effect appears to be insidious:

Interestingly, even when police are specifically trained in ‘anti-racism’ and in appreciation of subordinate cultures, the usual socializing effects of the police force still appear to operate. For example, when Wortley and Homel (1995) studied 412 Australian recruits who had participated in such training vis-a-vis Aborigines, they found that despite a softening of authoritarianism during the training phase, within 12 months’ time in the field recruits had nonetheless become significantly more ethnocentric and authoritarian than they were prior to training.

Police institutions apparently also promote behaviors associated with authoritarianism and SDO:

Importantly, research has also uncovered evidence for the process of differential success within the police force. For example, Leitner and Sedlacek (1976) found that the more ‘racially’ prejudiced police officers were, the more likely they were to receive positive performance evaluations from their supervisors.

Many studies can be found in this field of research and for different countries than the USA. For example, this study about British police officers found similar results as described above:

The findings suggest that the police force attracts conservative and authoritarian personalities, that basic training has a temporarily liberalizing effect, and that continued police service results in increasingly illiberal/intolerant attitudes towards coloured immigration.

Likewise with this Australian study with Queensland police recruits:

In particular, attitudes towards gays, the treatment of sex offenders and attitudes towards youth discipline and punishment became more conservative as a result of socialisation at the police academy and on the job. Results indicate a general move towards more conservative attitudes as a result of socialisation.

There is a lot that can be said of police culture and identification, their “us vs. them” mentality and their feelings of isolation, the place of values related to masculinity and heterosexuality, and how police both selects people with certain attitudes and values and promotes these attitudes and values. But generally speaking, it does appear that the police can be conceived as an institution of control which is by its nature authoritarian and hierarchy-enhancing, and its members play the coherent role. And thus it can be argued that the police is attractive to the kind of people you would expect to find among both right-wingers and radical right-wingers, and that it allows them to flourish to some extent.

As a disclaimer, this is about attitudes, values, beliefs which do not automatically and directly translate into actions. That is another big chapter. And the above does not mean police as a general concept is inevitably authoritarian, xenophobic, etc. It is more complex than that.



Do you think that part of the racial bias may stem from the fact that officers are experiencing differential levels of crime by different racial groupings? I would imagine that it is much easier to dispel the idea that blacks, for instance, are more inherently criminal. Via explaining the social and historical factors which disenfranchised and impoverished communities of color to someone who’s racial conception are based on reading the black people commit crimes at higher rates versus someone who is constantly being exposed to black people committing crimes at higher rates at work every day.

Basically, because cops are the ones most directly dealing with the results of the flawed system and having it constantly reinforcing their biases it makes it harder for them to dispel racial biases through theoretical explanations? I wonder if there is data on the effectiveness of racial sensitivity training by level of exposure to minorities which commit a disproportionate amount of crimes? Ie is not easier to erase the racial biases of an officer whose daily work involves dealing with high crime minorities daily versus one who only reads about them?



In 2006, the FBI investigated police forces across the US and released a bulletin warning that white supremacists were purposefully infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against their fellows and recruit fellow officers. (Download link for the full pdf. is included in the article below).

There have been tons of studies done showing that police across the country have a strong pro-white and anti-poc bias. Google and you’ll find dozens. Here are a few I pulled up in less than 5min:

So, statistically, police are more likely to arrest black folks for basically everything. And much more likely to use deadly force against them. There are similarly high statistics for other groups such as indigenous Americans, Hispanic and Latinx Americans, etc.

I imagine it would be hard to compare if they are more biased than the general population by these numbers because they have more power than the general population to act on bias. I’m not sure how that would be measured, though political affiliation is easy enough.

Police are much more likely to consider officer shootings of black folks to be “isolated incidents” compared to the general population. Which is more likely to see them as indicative of a larger problem.

According to this study police sergeants, sheriffs, state troopers, and detectives are more right-leaning. Police officers split down the middle, and police chiefs are very slightly left-leaning.

A different study on how occupation relates to political affiliation in the US showed that most careers where the split was pretty even were not moderate, but very polarized. That may be the case with law enforcement as well, but hard to tell as this study didn’t separate law enforcement and the previous study didn’t show that much detail. (Although both were taken from campaign contributions.)

Another relevant finding is that police officer are three times more likely to physically abuse their children compared to the general population:

I wasn’t able to cover everything, but this should give you a good starting point for further research.



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