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81 Percent Express Confidence in Police Yet Polls Show Declines And Disparities
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 08/24/2020

Police line What’s below are short summations of new and previously published public opinion polls regarding American policing taken after the death of George Floyd. Most are direct quotes, sometimes rearranged for brevity. Readers asked for a quick summation of the topic.

We are living through turbulent times and endless negative publicity that is affecting many. Readers need to understand that before the pandemic and a slew of negative incidents involving the use of force, Americans held law enforcement in high regard.

Gallup-Confidence in Law Enforcement

Per Gallup, the police stand alone as seeing a significant decline in the past year. Confidence in the police fell five points to 48%, marking the first time in the 27-year trend that this reading is below the majority level. This drop follows the public outcry after George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis in late May, which sparked nationwide protests against excessive use of force by the police. This measure has been as high as 64% in the past. Confidence in the police rose seven points among Republicans to 82% and dropped six points among Democrats to 28%.

Yet when adding all three categories, a great deal of confidence, quite a lot, and some, 81 percent expressed a level of confidence in law enforcement.

As to a great deal of confidence, law enforcement did better than the medical system, public schools, the Supreme Court, the presidency, banks, unions, tech companies, newspapers, the justice system, big business, television news, and Congress. Policing came within two points of organized religion. Only small businesses and the military were significantly higher. The findings are similar for the “quite a bit” category with only the medical system, the military, and small business exceeding law enforcement.

Of the 16 institutions rated this year, Gallup has tracked 14 annually since 1993. Americans’ average confidence in these 14 overall edged up slightly this year compared with the prior two years, from 33% to 36%. Yet, it remains below the 43% highs recorded in 2001-2004, Gallup.

Gallup-White and Black Confidence In Law Enforcement

Fifty-six percent of White adults and 19% of Black adults say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. This 37-percentage-point racial gap is the largest found for any of 16 major U.S. institutions rated in Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll.

By contrast, Black and White respondents express similar levels of confidence in half of the institutions rated, showing gaps of five points or less.

As a whole, Americans are most confident in small business and the military. These are two of the eight institutions that show meaningful racial differences, including a 17-point difference on small business (84% of White respondents and 67% of Black respondents are confident) and 19 points on the military (78% and 59%, respectively).

Other institutions viewed differently by White and Black Americans include the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, TV news and large technology companies. The latter two are the only institutions in which Black adults express greater confidence than White adults — 29% of Black respondents and 16% of White respondents are confident in TV news, while 39% of Black respondents and 30% of White respondents are confident in large technology companies, Gallup.

Gallup-African Americans Want Police To Stay Or Increase Presence

When asked whether they want the police to spend more time, the same amount of time or less time than they currently do in their area, most Black Americans — 61% — want the police presence to remain the same. This is similar to the 67% of all U.S. adults preferring the status quo, including 71% of White Americans.

Meanwhile, nearly equal proportions of Black Americans say they would like the police to spend more time in their area (20%) as say they’d like them to spend less time there (19%).

Fewer than one in five Black Americans feel very confident that the police in their area would treat them with courtesy and respect. While similar to the 24% of Asian Americans saying the same, it is markedly lower than the 40% of Hispanic Americans and the 56% of White Americans who feel this way, Gallup.

Before Floyd, Public Opinion Was Mostly Positive

An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contacts, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics study, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts.

Even in fragile communities (i.e., high unemployment), a study finds that 74% of fragile-community residents vs. 87% of Americans overall think people like themselves are treated “very fairly” or “fairly” by their local police. The results vary by racial group: Black (65%) and Hispanic (72%) residents of fragile communities are considerably less likely than white residents (87%) to say people like themselves are treated fairly by police, Gallup.

Defunding The Police

Most Americans agree that police should undergo major changes but do not support abolishing police departments nationwide, according to a Gallup poll, which found that just 15 percent of Americans support getting rid of the police, Gallup.

Every poll I’ve seen indicates similar results, the great majority do not want law enforcement agencies defunded.

“Grassroots activists and younger Democrats who have spoken with BuzzFeed News this week say they’ve been disappointed in party leaders — including Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Black Congressional leaders including Rep. Jim Clyburn and CBC Chair Karen Bass — as they’ve watched them swiftly turn away from those conversations, emphatically rejecting the idea of defunding police as they face immediate attacks from Republicans,” BuzFeed.

The nation’s black mayors have devised a Peace Pact for Community Centered Policing, the Washington Post reports. The plan by the African American Mayors Association does not favor defunding the police.

Criminality And Protests

About six-in-ten U.S. adults say some people taking advantage of the situation to engage in criminal behavior has also been a major contributing factor in the protests. There are wide partisan gaps in these views. While roughly eight-in-ten Republicans and those who lean Republican say people taking advantage to engage in criminal behavior has been a major factor, only about four-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners agree. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say protesters have been motivated by longstanding concerns about the treatment of black people, Pew.

Support For Tough Anti-Crime Measures Falls

From The Crime Report: The U.S. median age is 38, which means less than half the population has a clear memory of life in 1991, when the violent crime rate reached its post-1970 peak of nearly 750 per 100,000 people. The rate is roughly half that today. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), though, is nearly 80, so he had an answer ready when New Yorker editor David Remnick suggested to him that Joe Biden’s support for a punitive 1994 crime bill might count against the former vice president’s campaign amid a movement for criminal justice reform, writes Washington Post columnist Charles Lane. Clyburn told Remnick that “black folks almost ran me out of the room” when he opposed mandatory minimum sentences while campaigning in 1992. At the time, 83 percent of Americans felt the system was “not tough enough” on crime, according to Gallup.

Since 1994, Americans have grown less hawkish on law enforcement: support for “tough” measures has fallen to levels not seen in almost 50 years, according to an index of “punitive sentiment” by political scientist Mark Ramirez of Arizona State University. For several years, public opinion has been receptive to new approaches based less on policing and incarceration, and more on social services and rehabilitation. In 2016, only 45 percent of Americans considered crime policy “not tough enough,” according to Gallup. Public support for harsh measures rose with violent crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s, then came down as the violent crime rate declined over the past quarter-century.

Confidence in Law Enforcement Shaken

From The Crime Report: A majority of Americans support Black Lives Matter and a record 69 percent say black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system. The public opposes calls to shift some police funding to social services, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds. The findings underscore the mixed fallout after the killing of George Floyd. There is increased public scrutiny of police treatment of Blacks, but less unity on broader questions. Stark divisions exist between different racial groups and among varied political identities.

Confidence in police appears shaken after a wave of national protests. Compared with 2014, fewer Americans say they are confident that police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force. More people say recent police killings of Black people are “a sign of broader problems” in police conduct.

The share of Americans saying that Blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system has risen by 15 percentage points from 2014. This year marks the first time a majority of whites has held this view. When compared with 2014, around the time of the killings of African Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, larger shares of virtually every demographic group and every age group now say that minorities do not receive treatment equal to white people in the criminal justice system. The share of white Democrats who say Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system rose 19 points to 89 percent. White Republicans inched up seven points to 36 percent.

Changes in Law Enforcement

From The Crime Report: Polling from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy shows a majority of voters support 10 key policies proposed by competing House and Senate bills that Congress failed to advance last month. With the 2020 election bearing down, lawmakers are not expected to revisit the issue this fall, but a strong national consensus could create a blueprint for congressional action in the years ahead.

The in-depth national survey of more than 3,000 registered voters included a “policymaking simulation,” in which participants were briefed on the policy options before being asked to evaluate arguments for and against the proposals and make a final recommendation.

Nearly 90 percent of respondents supported body cameras, including 85 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats. Eighty-two percent of respondents supported the duty to intervene (71 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats), and 81 percent favored a national registry of police misconduct (70 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats).

At least 8 in 10 Democrats supported every proposal surveyed, and a majority of Republicans backed six of them, including a ban on chokeholds and other neck restraints (55 percent), implicit racial bias training (53 percent) and a policy to hire an independent prosecutor to investigate or charge a law enforcement officer for using deadly force (52 percent).

The remaining proposals, which at least 6 in 10 registered voters supported, are de-escalation and use of force as a last resort (69 percent); banning no-knock warrants (65 percent); requiring law enforcement agencies to get approval from local government before requesting military equipment (64 percent); and amending qualified immunity (63 percent), Politico.

Cops Leaving

Via media reports, it’s well documented that police officers are leaving the job; family members are insisting that they get out, and get out now. Recruitment is down 63 percent. Retention is becoming difficult. Are we now Running Out Of Cops?

Due to intense criticism, cops are holding back (not being proactive) in a multitude of cities and violence is increasing, Arrests And Increasing Violence. Police officers are calling in sick in Atlanta and cities throughout the country. A DC police union survey says 71 percent of those polled are considering leaving, FOX DC.

Conclusions

Law enforcement is taking the public relations beating of a lifetime. Some of it is deserved, much of it isn’t. For those making instant decisions under unbelievably stressful circumstances, the vast majority do well.

If 81 percent of those polled indicate some level of confidence in law enforcement and policing ranks higher than most institutions, that’s better than most organizations.

Most officers believe that they have done nothing wrong in the administration of justice and polling data before the death of George Floyd supports this contention. North American policing was ranked as the most trusted in the world per an earlier report, Gallup.

Per USDOJ research, out of 40 million yearly contacts, only two percent involve force or the threat of force. Some polls show a remarkable amount of respect and approval before George Floyd.

There are a variety of strategies that police officers could support to make their jobs more productive. For example, forcing cops to enforce Coronavirus provisions is counterproductive and harmful to the profession. There are additional concerns, see What Cops Support.

But things are rapidly changing and the dynamics are endless. Every day brings more protests and endless videos of riots, looting, arson, graffiti, and assaults on civilians and police officers.

The most fundamental right of Americans is public safety. If the American public believes that they and their families are being threatened, then all bets are off. We may find that polling opinion shifts back and forth depending on the latest series of incidents.

Regardless, most believe that American policing needs to be fair and administered equally. We within the justice system need to embrace whatever changes are necessary to accomplish that goal.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed (https://crimeinamerica.net/?feed=rss2) provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications, and other announcements from the site.

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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