The Racial Confidence Gap in Police Performance

Rich Morin and Renee Stepler, Pew Research Center, September 29, 2016

The deep racial tensions seen in many areas of American life underlie how blacks and whites view police in their communities, as well as their reactions to the deadly encounters in recent years between blacks and law enforcement officers, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

Only about a third of blacks but roughly three-quarters of whites say police in their communities do an excellent or good job in using the appropriate force on suspects, treating all racial and ethnic minorities equally and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. Roughly half of all blacks say local police do an excellent or good job combating crime–a view held by about eight-in-ten whites.

Blacks and whites also differ over the root causes of the fatal incidents between police and blacks in recent years. Even before the recent lethal encounters between police and black men in Tulsa and Charlotte, the survey found that blacks are 25 percentage points more likely than whites to say the deaths of blacks during encounters with police in recent years are signs of a broader societal problem and not merely isolated incidents.

At the same time, whites and blacks both see the complexity of the situation. Majorities of each race say that both anti-police bias and a genuine desire to hold officers accountable for their actions play a part in fueling the protests that have often followed these fatal incidents, though whites are more skeptical than blacks about the demonstrators’ motives. There is less agreement on which is the more important motivator: For whites, it is anti-police bias (85% vs. 63% who see a sincere desire to promote accountability); for blacks it’s reversed (79% of blacks cite accountability, 56% opposition to the police).

{snip}

{snip} Just 14% of blacks say they have a lot of confidence in their local police, and 41% say they have some confidence. By comparison, about four-in-ten whites (42%) say they have a lot of confidence in their local police, and another 39% say they have some confidence. Among Hispanics, 31% say they have a lot of confidence, and another 48% say they have some confidence in their police. 2

{snip}

Most whites (75%) say their local police do an excellent or good job when it comes to using the right amount of force for each situation. Only 33% of blacks share this view; 63% say the police do only a fair or poor job in this area. About six-in-ten Hispanics (62%) say their community’s police are doing at least a good job in this area, while 35% say they are doing only a fair or poor job.

When it comes to treating racial or ethnic groups equally, 35% of blacks say the police department in their community does an excellent or good job, compared with 75% of whites. Conversely, about a quarter (23%) of blacks say their police department does only a fair job and about four-in-ten (38%) say they do a poor job. (Among whites, about a quarter–24%–say their department does only a fair job or a poor job in treating racial and ethnic groups equally.) Roughly six-in-ten Hispanics (58%) say their local police are doing an excellent or good job in this area, while 38% say they are doing only a fair or poor job.

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.