Police Brutality and Mistrust in Medical Institutions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Background: People bring the social contexts of their lives into the medical encounter. As a social determinant of health, police brutality influences physical and mental health. However, negative experiences with institutions such as law enforcement might decrease trust in other institutions, including medical institutions. Mistrust might limit engagement with the healthcare system and affect population health. This study investigates the relationship between police brutality and medical mistrust and assesses whether it varies by race. Basic Procedures: Data were obtained from a 2018 cross-sectional survey of adults living in urban areas in the USA (N = 4389). Medical mistrust was regressed on police brutality (experiences and appraisal of negative encounters with the police), controlling for socio-demographics, health status, and healthcare access. Means of mistrust were predicted by racial group after including interactions between police brutality and race. Main Findings: Respondents who had negative encounters with the police, even if they perceived these encounters to be necessary, had higher levels of medical mistrust compared to those with no negative police encounters. Police brutality increased mistrust for all racial groups. Principal Conclusions: Conditions outside the medical system such as experiencing police brutality impact relationships with the medical system. Given that clinicians are in a unique position of having access to firsthand information about the struggles and injustices that shape their patients’ health, advocating for systemic change on behalf of their patients might build trust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)760-768
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by Lehigh University’s Faculty Innovation Grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute.


  • Medical mistrust
  • Police brutality
  • Police brutality and health
  • Police brutality and medical mistrust
  • Race and medical mistrust

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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