Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology and Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Lourdes Gouveia


Tension and mistrust have characterized relations between the police and Latino communities. Civil rights leaders and community groups argue that increased employment of Latino police officers will improve the quality of police services, based on the assumption that Latino officers will be better able to relate to Latino community members and will not engage in discriminatory behavior. This assumption presupposes that Latinos are a relatively homogenous group, readily encompassed by clear ethnic boundaries and a shared sense of ethnic identity. In addition to presupposing a unidimensional “Latino” identity, it also presumes that Latino police officers share a common vision of their police role in the Latino community stemming from this shared sense of ethnic identity. This may, however, be far from a straight forward relationship. The growing Latino population is much more heterogeneous than in past decades. Latino police officers, who are primarily second and third generation middle-class citizens are now policing a Latino population that is increasingly diversified by country of origin, social class background, length of residence in the United States, educational and language skill levels, and other social and human capital variables. This study of Latino police officers examines public policy assumptions that Latinos are a homogenous ethnic group, and the related assumption that Latino police officers share a common vision of their role in the Latino community, one that is more supportive of and better qualified to meet the needs of the Latino community. Through systematic, in-depth interviews with the complete population (100%) of sworn Latino officers in Omaha, NE (N=34), I investigate the officers’ attitudes regarding their ethnic identification and their experiences policing in a diverse Latino community. By illustrating various degrees of identification with the ethnic minority group as well as various degrees of identification with the Anglo majority, I delineate three general ethnic identity patterns expressed by the officers. I also examine socio‐demographic factors relevant to identity formation and assess their explanatory value. Second, I investigate whether officers who identify with the Latino community do have, as policy predicts, more empathic and supportive attitudes. Two general approaches to policing in the Latino community are profiled. Implications are discussed.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Sociology/Anthropology and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright Dawn M. Irlbeck July, 2000

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