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Americans Rate Their Local Police

Respect for police and confidence in ability of police to protect from violent crime remain high

by Chris Chambers and Frank Newport

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A clear majority of Americans have respect for the police in their local areas, and are confident that the police can protect them from violent crime. Respect for local police is lower than it was in the 1960s, but is about the same as it has been over the past 10 years. Confidence in the police is higher now than it was 20 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. A new Gallup poll also shows that about a third of Americans think there are incidents of police brutality in their local area, a number that has changed little over the past 10 years. Americans give the U.S. prison system relatively high marks for keeping prisoners securely locked up, but rate it much lower on its ability to rehabilitate prisoners or keep them safe while behind bars.

Respect and Confidence in the Local Police
Slightly more than six in ten Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the ability of their local police to protect them from violent crime, a number that is higher than the ones recorded five and 10 years ago. Sixty percent have "a great deal" of respect for the police in their area, down from the 1960s, but about on par with measures of respect from the early 1990s. And a majority of Americans say there is no evidence of police brutality in their areas, although about a third -- most often those in urban areas -- say there is. This number is little changed from 1991, but is up significantly from 35 years ago, in the 1960s, when relatively few Americans said they saw evidence of police brutality.

Gallup first asked Americans about their confidence in the ability of the police to protect them from violent crime in 1981, when only 49% said they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in this role of the police. That number is now at 62%. Last year, this confidence indicator reached 70%, but before that time it had never been above 55%. Thirty-seven percent of Americans currently indicate having "not very much" confidence or "none at all" in the police.

There is a relationship between this measure and age: older Americans are more likely to say they have confidence in the police to protect them, while younger Americans are less likely to feel this way.

A separate measure included in the most recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans have "a great deal" of respect for police in their area, while 30% have "some" respect for the police in their area, and just 9% have "hardly any" respect. This measure is about where it was in 1991, but is down from the 70% and 77% who responded affirmatively to the question in 1965 and 1967, respectively, when Gallup first began asking these questions.

What about the issue of police brutality? In four different surveys conducted since 1991, between 30% and 40% of Americans have said that there is police brutality in their area. That number reached its highest point in July 1991. Now, in this most recent survey, 32% answer affirmatively. In the 1960s, by way of contrast, less than 10% of Americans said there was police brutality in their area.

Nonwhites and those living in urban areas are overwhelmingly more likely to say there is police brutality in their area than are whites and those living in the suburbs and in rural areas. Only 28% of whites say "yes" to this brutality question, compared to 50% of nonwhites. Similarly, 46% of those living in urban areas say yes, compared to just 15% of those in rural areas.

About Six in Ten Have Received a Speeding Ticket From Police; Only 14% Have Been Arrested
Fifty-eight percent of Americans have received a speeding ticket from police, and another 50% say that they have themselves called the police for help. On the other hand, only 14% have been arrested, and about the same number -- 16% -- say they have been detained by police for questioning, but not arrested.

There are significant differences in these percentages by demographic group:

  • Younger men are most likely to have received a speeding ticket; older women are least likely
  • Men are much more likely than women to have been arrested by police, and those who are 49 or under are also more likely to say that they have been arrested than are those 50 or over. A history of having been arrested is also more common among those with lower levels of education and those with lower incomes. Interestingly, those who personally own a gun are three times as likely (18% compared to 6%) to say they have been arrested than are those who do not personally own a gun.

Prison System Does a Poor Job of Rehabilitating Inmates and Does Not Provide a Safe Environment for Inmates, Public Says
While public opinion of local police forces is relatively positive, Americans have more mixed perceptions of the U.S. prison system. About two-thirds of Americans say the prison system does an excellent or good job in terms of maintaining security to keep prisoners from escaping, but only 14% say the prison system does a good job in terms of rehabilitating prisoners so that they are less likely to commit crimes in the future. About 30% say the system does an excellent or good job of maintaining a safe environment for inmates in prison.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,012 adults, 18 years and older, conducted August 29-September 5, 2000. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How much confidence do you have in the ability of the police to protect you from violent crime -- a great deal, quite a lot, not very much, or none at all?

 

 

A great
deal

Quite
a lot

Not very much

None
at all

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

           

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

20

42

31

6

1

           

1999 Mar 5-7

29

41

25

4

1

1998 Oct 23-25

19

36

37

8

*

1995 Sep 22-24

20

30

39

9

2

1993 Oct 13-18

14

31

45

9

1

1989

14

34

42

8

2

1985

15

37

39

6

3

1981

15

34

42

8

1



How much respect do you have for the police in your area -- a great deal, some, or hardly any?

 

 

A great deal

Some

Hardly any

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

60

30

9

1

         

1999 Mar 5-7

64

29

7

*

1991 Mar 14-17

60

32

7

1

1967

77

17

4

2

1965

70

22

4

4



Which if any of the following experiences with police officers have you personally ever had? How about … . [RANDOM ORDER]

A. Received a speeding ticket

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

58%

42

*



B. Been arrested

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

14%

86

*



C. Been detained by the police for questioning, but not arrested

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

16%

84

*



D. Called the police yourself for help

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

50%

50

*



In some places in the nation, there have been charges of police brutality. Do you think there is any police brutality in your area, or not?

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

 

%

%

%

       

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

32

65

3

       

1999 Mar 5-7

38

57

5

1991 Jul 11-14

39

56

5

1991 Mar 14-17

35

60

5

1967 Aug 3-8

6

81

13

1965 Apr 2-7

9

79

12



Next, we'd like to ask you about several aspects of the prison system in the United States. For each one, please say whether you think prisons are doing an excellent, good, only fair or poor job. How about … ? [ROTATED]

A. Maintaining high security to keep prisoners from escaping

 

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

           

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

18%

49

23

8

2



B. Rehabilitating inmates so they are less likely to commit crimes in the future

 

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

           

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

2%

12

34

48

4



C. Maintaining a safe environment for inmates in prison

 

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

           

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

5%

25

37

26

7



* Less than 0.5%

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