There is a direct interdependence between the police and residents of communities or states. If the police treat all people with respect and do their job effectively, residents will more actively engage with the police by providing information, voting for budget expansions, and obeying laws. The opposite situation hinders the work of the police if citizens intuitively group against officials, hide information that is important for solving crimes, and obstruct justice. However, the sources of this attitude of residents towards the police lie in demographic aspects and personal reasons, based on fairness and equality of treatment provided by authorities. This paper will study the aspects that influence people’s attitudes towards the police to identify steps to improve their cooperation in communities.
Characteristics of People Affecting Perceptions of the Police
Age is one of the key parameters on which attitude toward police depends. According to Kappeler and Gaines (2015), young people are more likely than older adults to have a negative attitude towards the police. This perception is formed because the police are more likely to stop young people, suspect them of crimes, and treat them less respectfully only because of their age and perceived life experience. In addition, youth are more likely to visit places where administrative or criminal acts are committed, such as clubs or bars, and have more risky behavior (Kappeler & Gaines, 2015). However, as Sindall et al. (2016) noted, the perception of the police by young people, especially adolescents, is primarily influenced by the views of their parents. Consequently, even if some young people are faced with an unreasonable search or document control, in some cases, they may perceive this event as the performance of officers’ duties.
Race and Ethnicity
Race and ethnicity also play a significant role in the perception of the police, which is associated with the traditional marginalization of non-white people. Kappeler and Gaines (2015) noted that White people are more likely to perceive the police positively because they experience less unfair and disrespectful treatment and see themselves as victims of crime rather than offenders. At the same time, minorities are less likely to perceive the police positively; for example, in 2020, about 28% of Hispanic, 12% of Blacks, and 43% of Whites agreed that the police use the appropriate force for each situation (“George Floyd,” 2020). This attitude among minorities is related to their treatment by the police as their representatives are more often detained, arrested, interrogated, and accused of crimes without evidence.
Moreover, the situation with the public confidence in the police also escalated after the Black Lives Matter protests. The media and the public focused on police brutality, particularly the killings of unarmed Black citizens by police officers during arrests. In addition, the fact that the officers who committed those murders during service are usually not punished, and the doctrine of “qualified immunity” prevents citizens from suing them further outrages the public (George Floyd, 2020). Consequently, while people’s attitudes towards the police still vary by race, the events of 2020 have generally reduced American confidence in the police.
Gender and Sexual Orientation
While it has been suggested that women are more positive about the police than men, this idea is not accurate. In general, men and women perceive the police in the same way (Kappeler & Gaines, 2015). However, LGBTQ + representatives have a more negative attitude towards the authority, which is justified by their unequal treatment. According to Dario et al. (2019), although the relationship between police and LGBQ + representatives has improved over the past decades, many gays are forced to behave more masculine and lesbians more feminine to avoid mistreatment. LGBTQ + people are also more often denied protective orders for victims of domestic violence and hate crimes (Dario et al., 2019). Consequently, such manifestations of inequality usually reduce LGBTQ + confidence in the police.
Media Consumption and Attitude Towards the Police
Another critical factor in shaping attitudes towards the police is the person’s consumption of the information offered by the media. Since most people rarely encounter the police in their day-to-day lives, they judge its effectiveness based on information from their outside world. Research has shown that there are differences between media sources and how they affect attitudes. Intravia et al. (2017) argue that people who consume content from TV media are more positive about the police. For example, TV shows about detectives or police work most often show them from a positive side, forming an image of defenders and heroes, which is reflected in viewers’ minds. At the same time, people who read news on the Internet have a wider choice of information and are more negative about the actions of the police (Intravia et al., 2017). Consequently, the media play a significant role in shaping the attitude and interaction of the population with the police.
However, despite the general trends in demographic indicators, the main factor influencing the relationship is a personal experience with the police. If the person has had a negative experience, such as an unlawful arrest or charge, or generally unfair and unequal treatment, they perceive the police adversely. Victims of crime can also have negative experiences due to ineffective police work or circumstances beyond officers’ control. For example, a crime may not be solved due to a police officer’s frivolous attitude, but a request from a citizen can lie outside the officer’s authority or be limited by law. In any case, the person is likely to perceive the lack of help as a fault of the police. This trend is also tracked in the demographics above. More adverse attitudes among young people, racial and sexual minorities are associated with adverse experiences of unequal treatment. Nevertheless, a positive experience can improve this situation.
Solutions to Improve People’s Attitudes Towards the Police and Their Cooperation
This review demonstrates that most often, the negative attitude of the population towards the police is formed due to their or their friends’ and relatives’ negative experiences. Hence, the solution is to conduct training, education, and checks for police officers about equal treatment of all people. Although these principles are embedded in most laws, their perception is shaped at the individual level; thus, trainings should be aimed at changing the perception by police officers of the population as equals and not as potential criminals. The police should also be provided with the means and methods to reduce using force against the people to escape accidental victims. However, it is essential to preserve the basic principles and rules that help in the fight against crime. In addition, since the media plays a significant role in shaping perceptions, efforts should also be aimed at balancing news of the positive and negative aspects of the police across all sources. This step will allow people to form their own opinions without imposing ideas about “bad” or “good” police.
Therefore, this analysis demonstrates that various demographic factors such as age, sexual orientation, and race, as well as media consumption, influence people’s perception of the police. However, the primary influencer is a personal experience with the police. Consequently, the authorities, police, and media should work to improve this experience for residents by removing barriers such as discrimination, a sense of superiority, and inappropriate use of force by officers. Consequently, residents will more openly cooperate with the police and comply with the law if they trust the authorities and feel protected.
Dario, L. M., Fradella, H. F., Verhagen, M., & Parry, M. M. (2019). Assessing LGBT people’s perceptions of police legitimacy. Journal of Homosexuality, 67(7), 885–915. Web.
Intravia, J., Wolff, K. T., & Piquero, A. R. (2017). Investigating the effects of media consumption on attitudes toward police legitimacy. Deviant Behavior, 39(8), 963–980. Web.
Kappeler, V. E., & Gaines, L.K. (2015). Community policing: A contemporary perspective (7th ed.). Routledge.
Sindall, K., McCarthy, D. J., & Brunton-Smith, I. (2016). Young people and the formation of attitudes towards the police. European Journal of Criminology, 14(3), 344–364. Web.