There are endless discussions regarding law enforcement and the treatment of citizens, especially those within challenged communities. The presumption is that officers in tough neighborhoods treat residents dramatically different than those in higher income communities.

But the results from Gallup and additional research do not fully support this hypothesis. Yes, there are differences in perceived fairness based on race and ethnic background, but by and large, most people within fragile communities, regardless as to who they are, believe that law enforcement treats them fairly.

A new study by the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) and Gallup finds that residents in America’s fragile communities — defined as areas with concentrated poverty and limited access to educational and economic opportunities, have mixed but overall favorable views of law enforcement.

cops can smell crime

LAPD gang investigator. (Photo courtesy Chris Yarzab)

 

The study finds that 74 percent of fragile-community residents vs. 87 percent 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 percent) and Hispanic (72 percent) residents of fragile communities are considerably less likely than white residents (87 percent) to say people like themselves are treated fairly by police.

This latest study, the second annual survey of fragile communities conducted by CAO and Gallup, introduces a range of indicators gauging residents’ level of trust in various aspects of the criminal justice system. The report pays particular attention to residents’ views of police, given the fairly routine contact police have with citizens, Gallup.

Greater disparities exist regarding the courts and incarceration.

 

Public Confidence in Law Enforcement is High

The data states that policing is one of the most respected professions in the US and the world, and research documents that the overwhelming number of people stopped by law enforcement felt that they acted responsibly, Confidence in Police.

85 percent of Americans either have a great deal or some confidence in law enforcement. The media and Congress are at the bottom of the ratings.

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.

Having said this, it’s inevitable that out of 40 million yearly encounters, some will go bad. It’s a statistical reality. Per a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts.

 

Best In the World?

Gallup’s 2018 Global Law and Order report state that U.S. and Canadian police are the world’s most trusted law enforcement officers based on a measure of confidence.

The report offers an observation repeated on this site and by a number of criminologists; crime affects everything from schools to jobs to people’s willingness to invest in a community. High crime communities are simply detrimental to the prosperity of residents.

 

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“Gallup sees strong relationships between people’s answers to questions about their own security and their own experiences with crime and law enforcement and external measures related to economic and social development. These relationships illustrate how high crime rates can often suppress social cohesion and negatively affect economic performance.”

Gallup’s Law and Order Index uses four questions to gauge people’s sense of personal security and their personal experiences with crime and law enforcement:

 

  • In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force?
  • Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?
  • Within the last 12 months, have you had money or property stolen from you or another household member?
  • Within the past 12 months, have you been assaulted or mugged?

More than two in three adults worldwide (69 percent) said in 2017 that they have confidence in their local police. The results vary significantly by region, however, from a low of 42 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean to nearly double that in the U.S. and Canada (82 percent).

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Conclusion

There are endless news reports regarding the actions of cops, many unfavorable, and some deserved.

Many police officers believe that there is a literal and figurative war against cops, causing some to leave the profession. PTSD, drug and alcohol use, suicides and depression are major problems in law enforcement.

There are numerous articles (and research) suggesting that officers are not being as aggressive as they once were.  Dozens of cities are reporting excessive violence and crime; several articles suggest that cops are no longer being proactive thus contributing to the problem.

fixer

An officer lends a helping hand to fix a youngster’s bike. (Richmond Police Department)

 

But it’s interesting that after consistently getting slammed in the media, all research reports regarding the attitudes of Americans give mostly positive marks to police officers.

Yes, there are disconcerting differences and yes, law enforcement and residents need to address these issues head-on. But given the news coverage and historical animosities, good majorities of blacks and Hispanics in fragile communities state that they are treated fairly by police.

Considering all the negative coverage regarding use of force, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts.

Law enforcement has a long way to go as to establishing a reputation of fairness with all citizens, but at the moment, the baseline seems to indicate that regardless as to who you are, considerable majorities believe that they are treated fairly, and that’s a great place to start.

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