Friday, January 13, 2017

Police attitudes and beliefs

Those polling nerds at Pew Research have issued survey results from questions put to 8000 cops, mostly from large urban departments, last summer.

Many of the findings are unsurprising, if discouraging, to those of us hoping to stop police shootings of blacks and other people of color. Eighty-three percent of officers feel that their job is not well understood by the public, a belief that walls them off from the rest of us. Most white officers (92%) think enough has been done to ensure blacks have equal rights; black officers (29%) disagree. The white population outside law enforcement is more of a mixed bag; "only" 57% think that racial equality has arrived. The black public (12%) overwhelming says "no way."

Some of the other findings Pew reports are less intuitively obvious. Here are some that struck me.
  • Protesters aren't the only ones who believe police departments too often keep bad cops on the job. "... most officers are satisfied with their department as a place to work and remain strongly committed to making their agency successful. Still, about half (53%) question whether their department’s disciplinary procedures are fair, and seven-in-ten (72%) say that poorly performing officers are not held accountable."
  • "While two-thirds of all police officers say the deaths of blacks at the hands of police are isolated incidents, only about four-in-ten members of the public (39%) share this view while the majority (60%) believes these encounters point to a broader problem between police and blacks." That 60% is higher than I expected; let's keep getting out the stories!
  • "... while a majority of Americans (64%) favor a ban on assault-style weapons, a similar share of police officers (67%) say they would oppose such a ban." Have these officers no fear that someone will use these weapons against them? After all they feel misunderstood and under-appreciated.
  • There seem to be significant differences between the attitudes and possibly the actions of male and female officers. "A majority of black officers (57%) say [highly publicized fatal encounters between police and blacks] encounters are evidence of a broader problem between police and blacks, a view held by only about a quarter of all white (27%) and Hispanic (26%) officers. Black female officers in particular are more likely to say these incidents signal a more far-reaching concern. Among all sworn officers, 63% of black women say this, compared with 54% of black men. ...

    "Most officers say that outside of required training, they have not discharged their service firearm while on duty; 27% say they have done this. Male officers are about three times as likely as female officers to say they have fired their weapon while on duty – 30% of men vs. 11% of women. ..."
  • Hardly any cops think well of those of us protesting against excessive use of force by the police, but there are differences among them. "Among black officers, 69% say the protests were sincere efforts to force police accountability – more than double the proportion of whites (27%) who share this view. Female officers, older police and department administrators also are more likely than male officers, younger police and rank-and-file officers to believe protesters genuinely seek police accountability."
  • A significantly large proportion of cops seem to shrink from operating as agents of federal immigration authorities. "Officers are divided over whether local police should take an active role (52%) in identifying undocumented immigrants rather than leaving this task mainly to federal authorities (46%)."

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