Understanding Public Perception of Law Enforcement

December 15, 2016 by

The CATO Institute recently conducted a national survey polling Americans on their attitudes toward law enforcement and the tools used to perform their duties.

The common theme found in “Policing in America: Understanding Public Attitudes Toward the Police,” is that while racial and partisan lines caused favorability and perception to vary immensely among those surveyed, no one group was found to be truly “anti-cop.”

The report found that 68 percent of white Americans view the police favorably compared to 59 percent of Hispanics, and 40 percent of black Americans. The numbers don’t come as much of a shock since it has long been understood that minority groups, because of both policing and cultural trends, have traditionally viewed police more negatively than other ethnic groups.

What the survey also found was that in political groups, Republicans led the way in police favorability with 81 percent while Democrats and Independents tied at 59 percent. This trend can be seen on the state level as Republican-led states are increasingly passing Blue Lives Matter legislation which, in most cases, makes violence on a law enforcement officer a hate crime resulting in an enhanced punishment.

According to the study, none of the groups were found to be “anti-cop” primarily because most of them had a neutral view of police rather than an unfavorable one. Even in the groups that indicated lower favorability ratings, none of them favored cutting the number of police in their communities; in fact, 9 out of 10 respondents were opposed the idea.

When it came to police practices and potential reforms, here’s how the numbers broke down:

89% — Supported the use of police body-worn cameras

79% — Supported outside agencies conducting police misconduct investigations

68% — Supported additional training

73% –Supported police notification in instances where citizens can refuse searches

77% — Supported prohibiting profanity towards citizens

Also worth noting is that 89 percent of those surveyed opposed civil asset forfeiture and 76 percent said local police departments should not keep the assets seized. Most wanted the assets to go to a state general or law enforcement fund which would reduce the incentive of local law enforcements to seize assets in the first place.

The overall takeaways are that while most people have a favorable view of law enforcement, they also want to see reforms in the areas of transparency (body-worn cameras), accountability (external investigations), and civil asset forfeiture, to name a few.

While this study was conducted nationally, similar attitudes are seen here in Texas as there is a growing movement to reform these issues on both the local and state levels.


About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.