Behind the Badge: What Cops Think

unknown-1This week the reputable Pew Research Center published the results of a national survey of police opinion – Behind the Badge: What Police Think About Their Jobs.” There is an almost overwhelming (yet vitally important) amount of data here.


Behind the Badge

“Amid protests and calls for reform, how police view their jobs, key issues and recent fatal encounters between blacks and police.

“Police work has always been hard. Today police say it is even harder. In a new Pew Research Center national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform, majorities of police officers say that recent high-profile fatal encounters between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs riskier, aggravated tensions between police and blacks, and left many officers reluctant to fully carry out some of their duties.

“The wide-ranging survey, one of the largest ever conducted with a nationally representative sample of police, draws on the attitudes and experiences of nearly 8,000 policemen and women from departments with at least 100 officers. It comes at a crisis point in America’s relationship with the men and women who enforce its laws, precipitated by a series of deaths of black Americans during encounters with the police that have energized a vigorous national debate over police conduct and methods…”


These are important findings and emphasize the problems and gaps that need to be addressed and narrowed if we are to work together – police and those whom they serve – to improve our great nation. The report was prepared by Rich Morin, Kim Parker, Renee Stepler and Andrew Mercer of the Pew Research Center.

But do keep in mind that the survey comes from police departments of 100 or more officers while the overwhelming majority of police departments in the nation consist of 25 or fewer officers.

Nevertheless, I found the report encouraging and troubling — as well as providing some important feedback on how police view their leadership.


First, for those findings which I found encouraging:

  • Most officers are satisfied with their department as a place to work and are strongly committed to making their agency successful.
  • 80% say they have been thanked for their service during the month prior to the survey.
  • 60% say their work always are nearly always makes them feel proud.
  • Most police feel respected by the public and believe many of the residents in the area they patrol share their values.
  • A majority of officers say they equally fulfill the role of protector and enforcer (i.e., the guardian v. warrior argument).
  • Both police and public favor the use of body cameras.
  • Most police and citizens believe the current marijuana laws should be relaxed.
  • Most police give their agencies positive (though not exemplary) ratings for training and equipping them to do their job.
  • Most say that their department’s use of force policy and training strikes the right balance.
  • Fully 80% say officers should be required to intervene when they believe another officer is about to use unnecessary force.
  • A large majority (76%) of officers say that responding effectively to people who are having a mental health crisis is an important role for them.

Now for those which I found troubling – yet instructive:

  • Three-quarters of police say use of force incidents have increased the tension between police and blacks in their communities.
  • About as many say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons.
  • 86% say police work is hard today as a result of these high-profile incidents.
  • While 60% of U.S. adults say these incidents are symptoms of a deeper problem, as many police say they are not.
  • Almost three-quarters of police say under-performing officers are not held accountable by their agencies.
  • The racial divide within police agencies makes one of the singular findings of this survey. For example, 92% of white officers believe the country has made the changes needed to assure equal rights for blacks while only 29% of black officers agree.
  • Further differences emerge when officers are compared with members of the public:
    • 66% of police say deaths of blacks at the hands of police are isolated incidents – only about 60% of the public believe they are part of a broader problem between police and blacks.
    • A majority of Americans (64%) favor a ban on assault-style weapons while a similar number of police oppose such a ban.
    • While only 14% of police say the public understands the risks of their job, 86% of the public says they do.
  • A narrow majority of officers (54%) believe an aggressive rather than courteous approach to citizens is more effective in certain neighborhoods.
  • Only 56% of officers believe they have a good relationship with blacks in their communities – only 32% of black officers believe they do.
  • Only about a quarter of all white officers believe the protests following officer involved shootings are motivated by a genuine desire to hold police accountable while 70% of black officers do.
  • A third of all officers have physically struggled or fought with a suspect who was resisting arrest (white officers more than blacks; male officers more than females).
  • About one-quarter of officers have discharged their firearm while on duty (30% of males and 11% of female officers).

Now with regard to police leadership:

  • Only 30% of officers say they are supportive of the direction that top management is taking their organization.
  • Almost half say management is slightly or not supportive at all.
  • Most police (86%) say their department does not have enough officers to adequately police the community.
  • About one-quarter of officers say the rules governing use of force are too restrictive.
  • More than half say their department’s disciplinary process is not fair.
  • 72% say that under-performing officers are not held accountable.
  • Half of black officers say whites are treated better than minorities when it comes to assignments and promotions.
  • Nearly 70% of officers have not patrolled on foot continuously for 30 minutes or more during the past month.
  • Over 1/2 of officers believe local police should take an active role with federal immigration officers identifying undocumented immigrants.
  • The share of police women or minorities has increased only slowly in recent decades (since 1987, females from 8-12%, blacks from 9-12%, and Hispanics from 5-12%).

These data will provide police, as well as community leaders, a lot with which to work. Some of these beliefs and opinions I could have predicted, others I could not have.

Nevertheless, now is the time to press on. We have things to celebrate and work to do!