WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans’ perceptions of police-community relations are often shaped by rare but highly publicized tragic incidents. However, findings from the Gallup Center on Black Voices reveal that Americans' personal experiences with police encounters also shape their perceptions of policing.
Most Encounters With Police Are Positive
Despite what news reports may suggest, most Americans report that their dealings with police are relatively pleasant. Overall, 77% of Americans say that their most recent interaction with a member of their local police force was a positive experience, 85% say they were treated fairly, and 84% say they were treated with respect.
Black Americans Report Less Positive Experiences With Police Encounters
However, racial and ethnic groups do not have equally positive experiences with the police. Specifically, Black (68%) and Hispanic (70%) Americans are less likely than White Americans (82%) to report an overall positive experience in their encounters with police in the past 12 months. Similarly, Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely than their White counterparts to say they were treated fairly or with respect in their dealings with the police.
Impacts of Police Encounters
Interactions with police -- whether positive or negative -- can bear on people’s perceptions of how they experience justice, safety and everyday life. Gallup finds that police interactions are related to Americans’ expectations for future police interactions, their confidence in police, their feelings of personal safety and their overall wellbeing.
Past Police Encounters Set Current and Future Expectations of Policing
Interactions with police set the tone for how Americans perceive police treatment in their local area. With near unanimity, those who report positive interactions with police expect future encounters to follow suit (95%) and feel they can count on police to treat people like them fairly (91%). In contrast, less than half of those who have had negative experiences in recent interactions say the same. These expectations are reflected in perceptions of overall police-community relations as well.
Encounters With Police Inspire Confidence -- or Undermine It
Feeling a sense of trust that local police will fulfill their role -- to serve and protect -- is a crucial indicator of community wellbeing. Gallup’s Center on Black Voices finds that recent interactions with police are a key differentiator of Americans’ confidence in their local police force. 78% of those reporting positive police interactions feel confident, compared with 26% of those with negative interactions.
Negative Interactions Associated With Safety Concerns
Seventy-seven percent of Americans who report that they had a positive encounter with police in the past 12 months say they feel safe walking alone at night where they live. In contrast, that rate drops 19 percentage points, to just 58%, among those who report that their encounter was not positive.
Negative Interactions With Police Associated With Lower Overall Wellbeing
Negative encounters with the police are associated with lower overall life satisfaction. Americans who report that they were not treated fairly in this interaction are less likely to be characterized as “thriving” in their overall lives, by 21 points, on Gallup’s Net Thriving index. The pattern is similar for Americans who report that they were not treated with respect (23-point difference) or that the interaction was not a positive experience overall (20-point difference).
Day-to-day interactions between police and individuals are important to how people see and experience life in their communities. These data from Gallup’s Center on Black Voices show that most people (77%) who interact with police walk away with a positive perception, one that engenders confidence in their local police force and a sense of security in their community.
But Americans who experience negative interactions with the police have a very different perception of policing in their local communities. These perceptions factor into feelings about their own safety and wellbeing.
Every interface between police and the public is meaningful. Even seemingly routine interactions can exemplify the ideals of safety and protection, or they can raise a sense of mistrust and suspicion. Moving the needle on more of these experiences from negative to positive could change conversations around policing entirely.
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