The Occupational Status of Law Enforcement Officers and Variation Across Sociodemographic Characteristics: Quantifying Self and Public Perceptions of Prestige

Perceptions of occupational prestige are commonly associated with job satisfaction and job turnover intentions, but little is known about law enforcement officers’ (LEOs) own views of the prestige of policing. The purpose of this study is to quantify how LEOs rate the prestige of their profession, how they think their communities view their profession, and whether these views vary by sociodemographic characteristics. We estimated occupational prestige using traditional and multidimensional measures in a nationally representative sample of LEOs. Officers view their occupation as more prestigious, more morally good, and more active, but less powerful than they believe the public sees it. Officers’ assessment of public esteem for policing underestimates actual public perceptions, according to other data sources we analyzed. We found significant variation in perceptions of occupational prestige by sex, race/ethnicity, job location, and rank. Practically, the substantial gap between officers’ self-perceptions and perceptions of community views may be problematic for officer recruitment and retention. Methodologically, our results support the use of multidimensional measures to better capture the various components of job prestige, especially in occupations in which honor and respect are major components, such as law enforcement.