Nonwhites Less Likely to Feel Police Protect and Serve Them
Politics

Nonwhites Less Likely to Feel Police Protect and Serve Them

by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • Whites (60%) more trusting in police than nonwhites (49%)
  • More than six in 10 Americans have "a great deal" of respect for police

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As a grand jury decides whether to indict a white police officer for shooting an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, Americans' confidence in their local police to protect them from violent crime continues to differ by race, as it has since Gallup started measuring it. White Americans (60%) surveyed last month expressed more trust in police than nonwhites did (49%), although the 11-percentage-point gap is slightly smaller than the average 14-point gap seen since 1985.

Trend: Confidence in Police to Protect Them From Violent Crime, U.S. Whites vs. Nonwhites

Since 1985, Gallup has generally found double-digit differences between the percentages of U.S. whites and nonwhites who say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the ability of their local police to protect them. Just three times -- in 1985, 1989 and 1998 -- has the gap been below 10 percentage points.

Confidence in police protection plummeted to its lowest on record for both whites (47%) and nonwhites (33%) in 1993 -- months after two police officers were given 30-month prison sentences for violating the civil rights of Rodney King and arresting him with excessive force. However, even as confidence has since increased among both groups, a significant gap has persisted.

Although there have been high-profile shootings of unarmed black teenagers in recent years, the current 11-point gap between white and nonwhite opinions is narrower than in most years. The difference between whites' and nonwhites' views has ranged from four to 25 points, with the largest gap in 2001.

Current confidence in police protection among nonwhites -- which encompasses Hispanics and other communities of color -- is just a few points off from the average since 1985, suggesting that it has not seen any significant improvements over the past three decades.

Overall, Americans Trust Police to Protect Them From Violent Crime

Aside from the differences by race, the majority of Americans have generally had confidence in their local police to protect them from violent crime since Gallup began polling on the question in 1981. Americans' current level of confidence in police protection -- 57% -- is slightly higher than the average for all previous polls.

Since 1995, solid majorities of Americans have expressed confidence in police to protect them from violent crime, with the largest majority found in 1999, when 70% of Americans said they had confidence. Prior to 1995, trust in police among Americans ranged from 45% to 52%.

Trend: Americans' Confidence in Police to Protect Them From Violent Crime

Americans More Likely to Respect Police Than Express Confidence in Them

Six in 10 Americans (61%) say they have "a great deal" of respect for the police in their area, while 29% have "some" respect and 9% have "hardly any."

Trend: Americans' Respect for Police in Their Areas

Respect for police was significantly higher in the 1960s. Roughly three in four Americans (77%) had "a great deal" of respect for police in 1967. In subsequent polls, Americans' respect for police has ebbed, though it has always remained a majority sentiment. The current reading is up slightly from 56% in the prior measurement in 2005.

Bottom Line

The case stemming from the August shooting of black teen Michael Brown is yet another example of the strained relations between police and the black community in the U.S. With its mostly white police force in a largely black municipality and some citizens' allegations of prolonged police harassment, Ferguson has been at the center of conversations about the challenges many blacks face in their relationship with their local police.

While about half of nonwhites hold some higher degree of confidence in the local law enforcement to protect them, a sizable number don't have any faith in police at all.

Nonwhites' confidence level is at about the historical average -- but this lack of improvement could trouble those who seek to strengthen the police's relationship with particular communities.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 12-15, 2014, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 776 whites, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 218 nonwhites, the margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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