Pew Research Center also released a report Thursday that looks at the “racial confidence gap” in how police officers are perceived by the general public. Researchers concluded that whites, blacks, and Latinos show some level of criticism about the performance of their police force, with only 26 percent of all respondents saying they “have a lot of confidence” in the police. The low confidence is most pronounced among blacks. Only 14 percent have a lot of confidence, and they “are about half as likely as whites to have a positive view of the job their local police are doing,” per the report. They are also 25 percent more likely than whites to link the deaths of blacks in interactions with police to a broader society-wide problem instead of viewing each as an isolated incident. By comparison, a third of Latinos have a lot of confidence in police.
Are highly publicized incidents of police brutality and police shootings making black Americans less likely to reach out to police? Do residents of affected communities fear calling 911 to report crimes? Might the fear of a situation ending tragically prevent even people who might be in some danger from involving their local police force?
The Pew report offers some insight into these hard-to-answer questions. Three quarters of white respondents rate police work as “excellent” in terms of using the “right amount of force for each situation.” Only a third of blacks share this view, and two thirds say the police do only a “fair or poor job” in this regard. Among Latinos, two thirds say police are doing “at least a good job,” while just over a third rate them as “only a fair or poor.”
Those numbers reflect both broad-based concern, and its concentration in the black community. As the sociologists noted in their examination of 911 calls, history and research suggest “that African American communities would be more affected than white communities” by police shootings and other incidents of brutality.
Frank Jude was brutally beaten by off-duty police officers in Milwaukee, but his story did not become known for months. Following news reports in a local paper, demonstrators organized to pressure authorities to bring the officers involved to justice. The study looked at 911 call patterns during the year prior to the story breaking and the year following. They chronicled a stark correlation: “We estimate that the police beating of Frank Jude resulted in a net loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls reporting crime the year after Jude’s story broke.” Over half of the total decline came from black neighborhoods.
The racial confidence report from Pew offers some sobering numbers that help put the conclusions in the Milwaukee study into a national context. Only a third of blacks say police do an “excellent or good job” in treating racial or ethnic groups equally, compared with three quarters of whites. Just under a quarter of blacks say the local police does “only a fair job” and about forty percent say they “do a poor job.”