Do You Trust And Support Your Local Police? Your Answer May Depend On Your Location And Race, Study Finds

(Photo by WCN 24/7/Flickr.com)
(Photo by WCN 24/7/Flickr.com)

By ideastream’s Brian Bull

A new survey says residents across Northeast Ohio find local police to be either trustworthy public servants who treat everyone equally…or they’re unreliable and single out certain groups for harassment or abuse.  

Perceptions hinge largely on respondents’ race and where they live.

Baldwin Wallace University’s Quality of Life Study surveyed roughly 600 people across seven-counties, asking them to rate questions such as, “I feel safe in my neighborhood at night,” and “The police officers in my neighborhood treat all people with respect.”

Thomas Sutton is Director of the university’s Community Research Institute.  He says attitudes towards law enforcement were markedly different between white suburbanites – who were 92 percent more likely to rate their police force’s professionalism as “high” – versus inner city residents.  

“I would suggest that that reflects the larger reality that an urban police department like Cleveland is dealing with…much higher level of issues on a daily basis that put police at risk, and that they’re working really short on resources,” says Sutton. 

“So the community sees them as being short-changed, they’re not getting the service they want.  And then you get these incidents like the Tamir Rice shooting, and then it becomes ‘Not only do we feel they’re not doing the job we need them to do, they’re actually doing things that are harming us.’” 

Baldwin Wallace University’s results show higher levels of mistrust of authority and greater fears for personal safety among people living in urban Cleveland, compared to suburbanites.  In one finding, whites were more than twice as likely to agree that their local police would protect them, than non-whites. 

Lauren Copeland -- Associate Director of the university’s Community Research Institute-- says there were also differences in perceptions of police in news coverage.

“You have people who are non-white who are living in inner city Cleveland saying the media aren’t making the police look bad enough,” says Copeland, “and then the people in the suburbs saying that, “They’re actually making them look bad.’”

The data was gathered in October and November last year, in a seven-county area of Northeast Ohio.  Copeland says they’ll do another survey next month, to see if there are marked differences in attitudes following a grand jury’s recent decision not to indict two police officers in the fatal shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice.

NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly named one of the Baldwin Wallace researchers as "Laura Copeland".  The correct name is Lauren Copeland.  Our apologies for the error. 

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You can view the survey findings from Baldwin Wallace University here: http://www.bw.edu/news/2016/cri-poll-divided-views-on-public-safety

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