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Confidence in Law Enforcement Continues, But Viewpoints Vary by Race

SAINT LEO, FL – Despite issues of shooting deaths at the hands of police and attacks on police officers, a new nationwide survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) found that trust and confidence in law enforcement officers, police departments, and the judicial system is steady or slightly increasing. 

 

In tracking questions from the polling institute’s October 2015 survey, ratings of policing overall have improved during the last year. The overall positive rating of community police departments increased from 54.3 percent last year to 60.7 percent this year in a national poll, a result that is statistically significant. Likewise, 60.9 percent of the 1,103 adults polled say they have a favorable opinion of the police officers in their community. Last year, 53.6 percent rated officers in their community as “good.” 

 

In Florida ratings held in the same range. In Saint Leo’s online poll of 502 state residents, the positive rating for community police department was 57.4 percent in October 2015, compared to 53.3 percent in September 2016—not a statistically significant decrease. The percentage of Florida residents who rated their community’s policing agency as “poor” in this year’s poll was 22.6 percent, compared to as 18.7 percent in 2015.      

 

Still, Dr. Eloy L. Nuñez, associate professor in the Department of Public Safety Administration at Saint Leo University, said that “a favorability rating in the 50-percent-to-60-percent range is a fairly good one, and compares favorably with almost all other government services.”  

 

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute also asked those responding to think about their own trust and confidence in police officers, police departments, and the judicial system. They were asked to rate the following based on their belief that they would be treated in a fair, impartial, and objective manner if involved with law enforcement. 

 

Using a scale of one to 10 in which one means they have strong trust and 10 means they have no trust, the results are: 

 

September 2016

Trust and                   National             National              Florida                 Florida

Confidence in…       Strong Trust      Little/No Trust   Strong Trust        Little/No Trust

                                       1-4                      7-10                      1-4                        7-10    

 

Trust in                         60.5%                20.2%                    58.6%                    21.8%

police officers

 

Trust in police              59.6%                19.8%                    57.0%                    21.8%

departments

 

Trust in the judicial     45.1%                 25.0%                   47.2%                    24.2%

system including

courts, prosecutors,

and judges

 

Trust in juries to         46.4%                22.9%                    45.6%                    24.4%

do the right thing*

                                                                                               *New question in 2016

 

September 2015

Trust and                   National             National              Florida                 Florida

Confidence in…       Strong Trust      Little/No Trust   Strong Trust        Little/No Trust

                                       1-4                      7-10                      1-4                        7-10    

 

Trust in                         54.7%                22.6%                    56.1%                    24.6%

police officers

 

Trust in police              53.1%                23.0%                    55.3%                    23.3%

departments

 

Trust in the judicial     40.3%                 29.8%                   43.2%                    29.7%

system including

courts, prosecutors,

and judges

 

Race appears to have played a role in the national responses as 34.4 percent of African-Americans say their community police department is good; 50.8 percent of Hispanics say the same; and 67.6 of white respondents said their police department is good. Trust and confidence in police officers was similar with responses of “strong trust” being given by 35.9 percent of African-Americans, 43.5 percent of Hispanics, and 68.7 percent of whites.

 

Trust in the judicial system did not fare as well, with 45.1 percent of the overall population saying they have strong trust; and just 27.3 percent of African-Americans say they have strong trust in the judicial system. Among Hispanics, the percentage was 36.7 percent, and among whites, 49.9 percent.

 

Use of Body Cameras, Stop and Frisk

The survey also showed the public continues to want police to wear body cameras.

The Saint Leo Polling Institute survey shows 89 percent of respondents in the United States say police should be required to wear the cameras, compared to 86.8 percent in 2015. The response is even among those of different races with 88.7 percent of Hispanics, 89.1 percent of African-Americans, and 89.5 percent of whites agreeing that body cameras should be required.

 

“Support remains strong for the wearing of body cameras by officers,” Saint Leo’s Nuñez said.  “The public seems to think that it is important for police departments and police officers to be held accountable for their actions.” 

 

The poll also asked about support or opposition of the policing strategy known as “stop and frisk” that permits officers to stop suspicious individuals in public areas to check for weapons without a search warrant. Nationally, 54.9 percent say they strongly and somewhat support the measure while 41 percent say they strongly and somewhat oppose it. Among Florida poll respondents, 52.2 percent say they strongly and somewhat support stop and frisk while 39.4 percent strongly and somewhat oppose.

 

Black Lives Matter, Military Equipment for Police

The poll also examined thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and the donation of military equipment and ammunition to law enforcement agencies. Nationally, about one-third of respondents said they support Black Lives Matter, an activist movement founded following the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

 

Statement – Added in              National -                        Florida -

2016 poll                                  Strongly and                   Strongly and

                                                Somewhat Agree            Somewhat Agree

 

I support the Black                       38.4%                               40.4%

Lives Matter Movement

 

Donations of used military equipment to law enforcement has been controversial and sometimes viewed as the “militarization” of police departments. Saint Leo’s poll shows that support continues for the transfer of such equipment to local police, from a 60.4-percent level of support in 2015 to 63.6 percent in the most recent survey.

 

Dr. Nuñez, the assistant professor of Department of Public Safety Administration, commented that the support registered “may have to do with several ambush assaults of police officers such as the Dallas incident (in July) in which five officers lost their lives.“

 

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute data shows:

Level of                                 2015 National              2016 National              2015 Florida             2016 Florida   

support/                                Strongly &                    Strongly &                    Strongly &                 Strongly &

agreement for…                Somewhat Agree       Somewhat Agree        Somewhat Agree    Somewhat Agree

  

The transfer of donated,          60.4%                           63.6%                             65.6%                      63.2%

used military hardware,

ammunition, and

equipment to community

police departments

 

 

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: The surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument from September 10 – September 16. The national sample included responses from 1,103 adults and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

 

The Florida poll yielded responses from a parallel group and yielded 502 responses, with an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

 

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

 

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

 

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