America’s confidence in police has fallen in recent months to a 22-year low, Gallup found in a recent survey.
At the same time, the polling outlet was quick to point out: “Even at its currently reduced confidence level, the police are still among the highest-ranking institutions, trailing only the military and small business among the 15 institutions tested in the poll.”
The findings aren’t shocking, given the widespread reporting of police-community clashes the past year, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Maryland. In Ferguson, police were criticized for brutality and over-zealous response to the widespread and violence street protests that erupted on the heels of officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of black teen, Michael Brown. Wilson was later absolved of any wrongdoing in the killing by a grand jury and then, by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In Baltimore, protesters destroyed buildings, businesses and vehicles after Freddie Gray was injured while in police custody. Gray died a few days later at the hospital and six officers were charged with homicide and other criminal violations.
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Gallup found a direct link between these outbreaks – as well as others in Staten Island, New York and North Charleston, South Carolina – and the drop in U.S. confidence in police.
“Overall, 25 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the police; 27 percent, quite a lot; 30 percent, some; 16 percent, very little; and 2 percent, none. The combined 18 percent who have very little or no confidence in police is the highest Gallup has measured to date,” Gallup reported.
Gallup also reported Democrats suffered the biggest drop in confidence in police over the last two years – by 13 percentage points. Currently, 42 percent of Democrats express confidence in police; 51 percent of Independents; and 69 percent of Republicans.
The breakdown by ethnicity shows wider chasms. Fully 57 percent of whites express confidence in police to do their jobs properly, compared to 42 percent of “nonwhite” citizens, 30 percent of blacks and 52 percent of Hispanics.
Nationally, only 53 percent of Americans express confidence in police, a four percentage point drop from 2013 when 57 percent of citizens told Gallup they believed in law enforcement.
The last time Americans’ confidence in police was that low was in 1993, when it hit 52 percent due in large part to the riots that took place in Los Angeles when four police officers, accused of wrongfully beating Rodney King, went to trial in federal court, Gallup said.
“The recent incidents in which black men were killed at the hands of white police officers trying to apprehend them have attracted a lot of media attention, but on a partisan basis they seem to have affected only the way Democrats view the police. The news has had less effect on how blacks specifically view the police, but that is most likely because blacks had far less confidence in the police long before these events happened,” Gallup found.
And the way to reverse the numbers?
“In the future, actions on the part of city governments and police departments to enhance relations with blacks in their communities, along with changes in policing techniques, could result in fewer racially charged incidents with police. That in turn could help restore some of the public’s confidence in the police. However, it will likely take much more than that for the police to gain blacks’ trust, given the long history of tension between blacks and police.”
The poll of 1,527 adults was conducted in random sampling fashion between June 2 and June, and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points.