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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Americans have little confidence in the police, according to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll released on Tuesday. The survey found that most people think police departments don’t do a good job “holding officers accountable for misconduct, treating racial groups equally, and using the right amount of force.” But there are large racial and political divides when it comes to assessing police officers’ job performance.

The poll was conducted two weeks after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

It found that 70 percent of blacks, 27 percent of whites, and 36 percent of all surveyed think that police departments across the country do a “poor” job of holding police officers accountable for their actions. When it comes to treating racial and ethnic groups equally, 70 percent of blacks, 25 percent of whites, and 33 percent in total think that police do a “poor” job. Similarly, 57 percent of blacks, 23 percent of whites, and 30 percent overall think that police departments do a “poor” job of using the proper amount of force.

Though whites view the police in a far more positive light than black respondents, only 37 percent of whites think that police departments do an “excellent” or “good” job of holding officers accountable, and 38 percent think that they do an “excellent” or “good” job of treating different races and ethnicities equally.

But the numbers are very different when it comes to assessing local police forces. Whites are almost twice as likely (72 percent of whites vs. 36 percent of blacks) to say that they have confidence in their police forces to treat whites and blacks equally. These numbers are very similar to the results from a 2009 survey asking the same question. The percentage of blacks who say they have “very little” confidence that police will treat them equally has increased from 34 percent in 2009 to 46 percent today.

There’s also a divide (74 percent of whites vs. 36 percent of blacks) when it comes to confidence that local police departments won’t use excessive force. More than half surveyed, and 60 percent of whites, say they are comfortable with police departments using military equipment and weapons, but 68 percent of blacks say that they have “not too much” or “no” confidence at all in police.

A large political gap also exists on police performance, which the pollsters say may be influenced by the “highly negative views of black Democrats.” Most Democrats (73 percent) think police departments only do a “fair” or “poor” job of holding officers accountable for misconduct, compared to 52 percent of Republicans who agree. Though black Democrats are far more likely than white Democrats to be critical of police accountability, white Democrats are more critical than Republicans overall. Young people are also overwhelmingly more critical of the police than those aged 50 and older.

The poll also found that most respondents (69 percent total, 75 percent of whites, and 64 percent of blacks) think that blacks and whites get along “very well.” But fewer blacks think so than in 2009.

AFP Photo/Michael B. Thomas

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