Editor note: This op-ed piece contains editorial commentary that is the opinion of the writer. Newsguard pointed out that this article inadvertently previously omitted clear classification of editorial content in this piece. Law Enforcement Today apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.
88% reported that they were satisfied with the police response, with 93% saying they would be more or as likely to contact police again in the future.
Approximately 4% of residents experienced some type of police action during their most recent police-initiated or traffic accident-related contact, with 3% experiencing the threat or use of force. Overall use or threat of force (all encounters) or threat of force was two percent.
About 1% of U.S. residents experienced misconduct during their most recent contact with police.
The verbiage below uses rearranged-direct quotes from the USDOJ report. Italicized portions and use of parenthesizes are mine. Readers should access the full report for a complete understanding of the findings. The cited research includes comparisons of 2020-2018-2015 data.
NATIONWIDE: New data from the US Department of Justice is crucial to our understanding of police-citizen interactions and dispels some negative stereotypes as to the behavior of law enforcement officers. The importance of this research to law enforcement is vital to provide a baseline for officer actions.
This article reviews past and current polling data regarding American interactions with police. There are few issues more contentious during the past decade than the actions of law enforcement as it applies to the use of force giving the impression that cops are heavy-handed or routinely abusive. The amount of media space examining perceived misconduct in American policing (some of it justified) has been enormous.
A Google search for the exact (and shortened) name of the report below shows no media coverage of this data.
The Marshall Project offered “Policing the Police: A Week of Racism, Abuse and Misconduct” without a mention of the USDOJ’s findings in their daily newsletter on November 19, the day after the USDOJ release, to support their fundraising efforts.
Those of us writing about crime and cops have offered previous data from Gallup and other sources stating that the vast majority of Americans support law enforcement.
Gallup data matches numbers provided by the US Department of Justice stating, “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 contact, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly,” Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Three percent of encounters with law enforcement involved the threat or use of force.
Per Gallup, “Less than half of White Americans (44%) and Black Americans (42%), and about half of Hispanic Americans (49%), say they have interacted with police in the past 12 months. The majority in each of these groups report that the interactions were generally positive.”
Regardless, there is data indicating that African American perceptions of law enforcement and respect are troubling and need to be addressed. But it’s also clear that African Americans want police in their communities and are generally supportive of law enforcement.
Concurrently, per Bureau of Labor Statistics data, tens of thousands of police officers are leaving their jobs coinciding with increasing violence, especially in urban areas, along with record fear of crime. Violence was a primary issue during the recent midterm elections.
Perceived disrespect and stereotyping of “all” or “most” cops as brutal or disrespectful (based on the actions of a few) is disproved by the data.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice released updated data in November 2022 as to police contacts with the public.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics offered its report on Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2020. Of note, an estimated 21% of U.S. residents age 16 or older (about 53.8 million persons) reported experiencing contact with police during the past 12 months in 2020, down from 24% in 2018.
Approximately 10% of residents had experienced contact where police approached or stopped them (police-initiated contact), while 11% experienced contact where they reached out to police (resident-initiated contact) and 3% were involved in a traffic accident that led to a police contact.
The findings in this report are based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 2020 Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), with selected data from the 2018 and 2015 PPCS data collections. The PPCS is a supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which collects information from a nationally representative sample of persons age 12 or older in U.S. households.
In 2020, U.S. residents were asked about instances in the past 12 months where they contacted police (resident-initiated contacts), instances where police approached or stopped them (police-initiated contacts), and contact related to a traffic accident.
Resident-initiated contacts include reporting a possible crime, disturbance, or suspicious activity; reporting a noncrime emergency, such as a medical emergency; reporting or seeking assistance with a nonemergency, such as custody enforcement; participating in a block watch or other anti-crime program; and approaching or seeking help from police for another reason.
Police-initiated contacts include being stopped by police while driving or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle (i.e., a traffic stop); being stopped by police while in a public place or parked vehicle (i.e., a street stop); being arrested, excluding arrests due to some other type of police contact; and being stopped or approached by police for some other reason.
Most residents who initiated police contact (88%) were satisfied with the police response.
The share of persons who said they experienced police misconduct during their most recent contact was not statistically different between 2018 and 2020 (1% each).
The majority of persons whose most recent police contact was a street stop experienced no enforcement action.
Contacts With Police
Across race and Hispanic origin, white persons (22%) were more likely than black (18%), Hispanic (17%), or Asian (16%) persons, but less likely than persons of another race (28%), to have contact with police in 2020.
White persons (3.0%) were less likely than black persons (3.6%) but more likely than Hispanic persons (2.5%) to have police contact related to a traffic accident.
Persons ages 18 to 24 were the most likely age group to have police-initiated contact (17%) and police contact related to a traffic accident (5%) in 2020.
Persons ages 18 to 24 (10%) were more likely to initiate police contact than those ages 16 to 17 (4%). They were less likely than those ages 25 to 44 (13%) or 45 to 64 (12%) to initiate police contact.
In 2020, about 21% of U.S. residents age 16 or older (more than 53.8 million persons) had contact with police in the past 12 months. This was down from 24% (61.5 million) in 2018 but similar to the 21% (53.5 million) in 2015.
The decrease in police contact was driven by a lower percentage of resident-initiated contact in 2020 (11%) than in 2018 (14%).
The portion of U.S. residents experiencing any type of police-initiated contact was lower in 2020 (10%) than in 2018 or 2015 (11% each). This reflected a pattern of decline in the percentage of residents experiencing police contact as drivers in traffic stops from 2015 (9%) to 2018 (8%), and to 2020 (7%).
Threat Or Use Of Of Force-Any Police Contact
U.S. residents age 16 or older who had any police contact in the past 12 months were asked if they experienced the threat of force or nonfatal use of force.
While the number of residents experiencing the threat of force or nonfatal use of force was higher in 2018 than 2020, there was no statistically significant difference in the percentage of residents experiencing the threat or use of force from 2018 to 2020 (2% each).
In 2020, a higher percentage of males (3%) than females (1%) experienced the threat of force or use of force. Black persons (4%) and Hispanic persons (2%) were more likely than white persons (1.5%) to experience the threat or use of force.
Residents ages 18 to 24 (3%) were more likely to experience the threat of force or use of nonfatal force than those ages 45 to 64 (1%) or age 65 or older (1%).
In general, similar shares of residents in most demographic categories experienced the threat or use of force in 2018 and 2020; however, Hispanic persons were more likely to experience the threat or use of force in 2018 than in 2020.
Force Or Threat Of Force-Police Initiated Contact
In both 2018 and 2020, about 3% of U.S. residents experienced the threat or use of force during their most recent police-initiated
The threat or use of force was more commonly experienced by those who were male (4%) than female (1%) in both years.
It was also more commonly experienced by persons who were black (5% in 2018 and 6% in 2020) or Hispanic (5% in 2018 and 3% in 2020) than persons who were white (2% in both years).
Persons ages 16 to 24 (4%) were twice as likely as those age 45 or older (2%) to report the threat or use of force in 2018 and 2020.
In 2020, drivers in traffic stops accounted for the majority (63%) of persons whose most recent police contact was initiated by police.
Males (68%) were more likely than females (56%) to be the driver in a traffic stop.
White persons (63%) were as likely as black persons (62%) but less likely than Asian persons (65%) to be the driver in a traffic stop during their most recent police contact.
In 2020, black drivers (15%) were more likely than white drivers (9%) to experience no enforcement action during their most recent traffic stop.
Persons with household incomes of $49,000 or less were more likely to be searched or arrested in 2018 and 2020 than persons with household incomes of $75,000 or more.
In 2020, the majority (75%) of U.S. residents whose most recent police contact was a street stop experienced no resulting enforcement action.
Residents who did experience an enforcement action most often received a warning (16%), while being searched or arrested (5%) or given a ticket (3%) was less common.
About 5% of residents were searched or arrested during their street stop in 2020, marking a nearly 60% decline from the 13% searched or arrested in 2018.
U.S. residents who had police contact, except as part of a block watch or other anti-crime program, were asked if police behaved properly during their most recent contact. Residents who reported that police behaved improperly were asked follow-up questions about police behavior, including whether police called them a slur or degrading name, seemed motivated by prejudice or bias toward them, or spoke to or touched them in a sexual manner.
In 2020, about 1% of U.S. residents experienced such misconduct during their most recent contact with police. One percent felt police behaviors were motivated by prejudice or bias, and 0.1% said police called them a slur or degrading name.
White persons (less than 1%) were less likely than black persons (5%), Hispanic persons (1%), or persons of another race (2%) to experience any type of police misconduct in 2020.
A larger share of Hispanic (2%) and white (0.6%) persons experienced misconduct in 2018 than in 2020 (1% of Hispanic persons and 0.4% of white persons).
Misconduct was based on age with older persons experiencing dramatically fewer instances of misconduct.
In 2020, approximately 4% of residents experienced some type of police action during their most recent police-initiated or traffic accident-related contact, with 3% experiencing the threat or use of force.
Persons most commonly experienced handcuffing (2.1%) or shouting (1.6%) by police. Residents were more likely to report that police displayed or used a weapon in 2018 than in 2020.
Black persons (7%) and Hispanic persons (5%) were more likely to experience at least one type of police action than white persons (3%) in 2020.
Black (6%) and Hispanic (3%) persons were also more likely than white persons (2%) to experience the threat or use of force. Black persons (3%) were more likely to be shouted at by police than white persons (1%).
Hispanic persons were more likely than white persons to be handcuffed in both 2018 and 2020.
There was no statistically significant difference in the likelihood of black (3%) and white (2%) persons being handcuffed in 2020, while black persons (4%) were more likely than white persons (2%) to be handcuffed in 2018.
There were no other significant differences between 2018 and 2020 in the percentage of persons experiencing any type of police action.
Was Force Necessary?
In 2020, about 31% of residents who were most recently involved in a police-initiated or traffic accident-related contact perceived police’s threat or use of force as necessary, while 46% saw it as excessive.
These percentages were not statistically different from 2018.
Actions Of Citizens During Stops
U.S. residents were also asked about their own conduct or actions during their most recent police-initiated or traffic accident-related contact. Those actions included complaining to the officer(s); verbal actions such as disobeying or verbally interfering, arguing with, cursing at, insulting, or verbally threatening the police officer(s); and physical actions such as trying to get away; resisting being handcuffed, searched, or arrested; or physically doing anything else to police.
An estimated 5% of residents engaged in at least one action toward police in 2020.
The most common action was complaining to police (4%), followed by verbal action (2%) and physical action (0.3%). Males (6%) were more likely than females (4%) and black persons (7%) were more likely than white persons (4%) to engage in at least one action toward police.
Persons ages 16 to 24 (4%) were less likely than those ages 25 to 44 or ages 45 to 64 (5% each) to engage in an action toward police.
Were Citizens Satisfied?
Residents who initiated their most recent contact with police (except as part of a block watch or other anti-crime program) were asked about their perception of police.
Approximately 88% reported that they were satisfied with the police response, with 93% saying they would be more or as likely to contact police again in the future.
About 84% of residents reported that police responded promptly. Males (93%) were more likely than females (90%) to report that police behaved properly.
White persons (89%) were the most likely racial or ethnic group to report being satisfied with the police response. A higher percentage of white persons (94%) said they would be more or as likely to contact police in the future than black persons (89%) or persons who are American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or of two or more races (87%).
The majority of residents (64%) reported that police improved the situation.
Data from the US Department of Justice indicates that proactive policing may be the only proven modality for crime control based on hundreds of methodologically correct studies. Based on this research, data, as it applies to police contacts with the public, becomes enormously important.
The timeframe for the years above (2015-2018-2020) coincided with charges of police misconduct focusing on police use of force resulting in demonstrations-protests-riots costing the insurance industry over two billion dollars in damages resulting in the “defund the police” movement.
Violent crime and serious violent crime climbed significantly (28 percent-2015-2018) per the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Policing is filled with pitfalls and dangers while often interacting with people with mental health issues under the influence of drugs or alcohol during very difficult circumstances. Routine calls to the police or proactive police stops can unexpectedly become dangerous for both officers and the public.
Overall, we have reduced contact with the public, 24-21 percent (influenced by resident-initiated contacts).
We have a 60 percent decline in searches and arrests during street stops.
The portion of U.S. residents experiencing any type of police-initiated contact was lower in 2020 (10%) than in 2018 or 2015 (11% each).
Traffic stops went from 9 to 7 percent.
Elevated issues of African American perceptions regarding police and other institutions (i.e., health care, journalism) as to treatment remain.
Beyond The Report
We now have problems with rising violence, especially in urban areas. Fear of crime is at record levels.
The reduction in police contacts with the public and a considerable decline in searches and arrests (60 percent) and police-initiated contacts and traffic stops and declining arrests may have a powerful connection to rising crime based on studies of police proactivity.
The threat of force or the use of force ranges between two to three percent, hardly the stereotype presented by detractors. Citizen respondents in other studies wildly overestimated the misuse of force suffered by African Americans.
The overwhelming majority of police contacts, with differences based on demographics, indicate considerable satisfaction with interactions with law enforcement, consistent with previous research. A CBS News/YouGov poll found that 70% of “Black Americans” said that local police are doing a “very good” or “somewhat good” job. The poll results also indicated that 82% of “Whites” and 77% of “Hispanics” said police were doing a “very or somewhat good job.”
Police officers are constitutionally and ethically mandated to treat all equally, regardless of who they are. The data indicate that while there are demographic differences, and while we do not know the circumstances of these events, the use of force or the threat of force involves small percentages, and one percent claim misconduct.
High rates of satisfaction (88 percent) suggest that most in law enforcement, while far from perfect, are doing their jobs properly, often during times of enormous stress.
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