The one thing that determines how you feel about the police
When it comes to how much confidence Americans have in the police, there’s good news and bad news
The good news: After dipping to a historic low two years ago, confidence has climbed back up again to what’s been the average the last 25 years.
The bad news: Confidence — while high among whites, conservatives, and those over 55 — is slipping among Hispanics, blacks, liberals and those under 35.
Let’s look at each one by one:
Overall, the confidence level is rising — and why
The findings are from a Gallup survey released this week. They show 57% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police.
In fact, two other US institutions scored higher than police this year:
the US military
Contrast the confidence level now to 2015 when it was at a record low — just 52%.
But that was during the initial rise of Black Lives Matter, when a series of deadly police encounters with unarmed black men led to months of protests.
So why has confidence in police rebounded while deadly shootings (and the corresponding protests) continue?
Better relations with the community: “Many police, not all, but many have really worked hard over the last few years to change some of those relationships,” says Cedric Alexander, deputy mayor of Rochester, New York. He’s the former national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Many, he says, are implementing recommendations from the 21st Century Policing report. The 2015 report makes several suggestions, including letting an outside agency handle the investigation into police shootings.
Muted response to shootings: Some of the outrage at the police has been somewhat more muted because media coverage of police shootings of black men was overtaken by coverage of the election in 2016 and the Russia scandal now. “But that does not mean that people have forgotten about it,” he says. “People are still very much concerned about this issue.”
The confidence level among minorities is falling – and why
When the poll results are broken down for race and ethnicity, political ideology, political party identification and age, a clearer picture emerges:
People are divided on their views based on their ethnicity and political leaning.
Different life experiences: “We have to remember that what people are responding to are their personal experiences,” Alexander says. “Most people will have a different experience and perception depending on which demographic group that they’re in.”
Social media: Confidence has dipped with younger people of color because of social media, says Wade McMullen Jr., managing attorney for the Washington-based advocacy group Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Stories and videos about police shootings “are in their newsfeeds constantly” and that’s why they’re not responding like older, more conservative whites.
Race is a factor even on the police side
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center surveyed nearly 8,000 officers on race relations, morale and reform. It found fatal the widely-publicized officer-involved shootings have made their jobs more difficult. And it found that black officers have a different take on how good community relations are compared with their white counterparts.
Six-in-10 white and Hispanic officers say the relationship with black communities is excellent or good. A third of black officers feel the same way. But twice as many black officers characterize the relationship as fair or poor.