Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Dr. Samuel Walker


New population trends by Latino immigrants have caused much debate in the field of criminal justice. Lack of research and literature on this growing population has left the justice system looking for ways to properly tap into the Latino population. Among the many areas that have been overlooked is one about how Latino immigrants adapt to their new life upon arriving in the United States. In addition, no study has ever explored how immigrants deal with the criminal justice system, especially the perceptions they have about the U.S. police. This thesis is an attempt to fill this void in research by being the first study of its kind. This thesis examined Latino/Immigrant perceptions about the police in Southeast Omaha, Nebraska. Specifically, the thesis aimed at discovering what the perceptions of Latino immigrants are about the U.S. police and whether or not these are shaped by their experiences with the police in their home country. Focus groups among Latino immigrants associated with different organizations and a local church in South Omaha were conducted. Different Latino backgrounds were selected in order to acquire a sample that was sufficiently stratified by nationality and other socio-demographic characteristics. A total of 32 people participated in these focus groups with nationalities from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The present study aimed at investigating the following research question: What are Latino immigrants’ perceptions about the U.S. police?, and what are the factors that influence these perceptions: 1) immigration status, 2) mistrust due to language barriers, and/or 3) fear which is connected to experiences with the police in their home countries. The findings from this study by way of focus groups with Latino immigrants suggest that the relationship between these two groups of people is positive. Although there is still room for changes to be achieved, the majority of the participants felt pleased with the way police rendered their services. Most participants said they do not feel comfortable calling the police for assistance mainly in part because of their immigration status. Most prefer to maintain a distance from the police out of fear of having to deal with questions about their legal situation. Most contacts with the police emerged out of a traffic stop and at times turned into a discussion of whether or not the participant had legal documentation to be in this country. There is some mistrust and fear of the police that is similar to the fear they have for the police in their home countries. However most of the fear that is felt by Latino immigrants towards the police is partly due because of the fear of being deported. Immigration plays a very important role on why Latino immigrants refrain from engaging in any contact with the police. The issues surrounding immigration does affect the relationship between the police and Latino immigrants in a negative way. Latino immigrants become reluctant to engage in any contact with the police out of fear of being deported. But overall, most participants viewed the police favorably and said if they had more of a grasp of the English language, they would be more likely to call the police for assistance. Suggestions offered by focus group participants, such as having community meetings with police officers and the hiring of bilingual officers, suggest that Latino immigrants are interested in building a positive relationship with law enforcement personnel. However, they also understand that both police departments and police officers must be willing to make changes and also work at achieving a positive relationship between the two. Finding ways to accurately deal with this growing population would ensure that a proper relationship built on trust and communication would be established between the police and Latino immigrants.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Criminal Justice And the Faculty of the Graduate College Unversity of Nebraska at Omaha In Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright, 2004 Griselda Aldrete