Police Officers’ Empathy Toward Victims

A Question of Innocence





police officers, empathy, victims, innocence, children, criminals, Washington, DC


Extensive scholarship has previously explored how police officers perceive crime victims. For example, scholars argue that victims’ behavior, relationship with the offender, and level of intoxication impact how officers perceive victims. Although this research explores several aspects of officers’ perception of victims, few studies have specifically explored in-depth police officers’ empathy toward victims. This article explores how officers perceive empathy and for what types of victims officers describe having the most and least empathy. Specifically, this article examines what types of crimes, characteristics of the victim, and contextual factors officers describe as impacting their level of empathy toward victims. Qualitative analysis was conducted on 25 interviews with police officers working in the greater Washington, DC area. Findings suggest that officers perceive innocence as something that informs their empathy toward victims. Officers used the examples of children and “criminals” to explain that victims who are perceived as more innocent receive more empathy than victims who are perceived as less innocent.

Author Biographies

Michelle N. Eliasson, University of Florida, Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law

Ms. Eliasson is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida. Her areas of interest are policing, victimology, and qualitative methodology.

Dana DeHart, University of South Carolina, College of Social Work

Dr. DeHart is a Research Professor at the University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work. Her areas of interest are victimization, incarceration, and trauma.






Research Aticles