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Public Opinions of the Police: The Influence of Friends, Family, and News Media

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2003
164 pages
This study examined whether the police treatment of citizens impacts broader public opinion of the police, as well as whether the media's portrayal of the police is an important determinant of public opinion of the police.
Data for the study were drawn from five precincts in New York City and involved analyses of monthly "consumer satisfaction" surveys of people who have had voluntary contacts with the police and surveys of precinct community leaders and the general public. News coverage of the police in the five precincts was also examined. Overall, citizens' opinions of the police were positive and stable over time, at least in the absence of significant shifts in police policy or media scandals. The same was true of levels of consumer satisfaction among those who had voluntary interactions with the police. This stability was maintained even in the face of some notable variation in news coverage of the police. The study also found that individuals whose family and friends had negative contact with the police also had less confidence in the police. It was not necessarily true, however, that positive experiences with police were associated with substantially higher levels of confidence in police either among individuals experiencing those contacts or among their friends and family members. These findings suggest that reducing the number of negative interactions police have with civilians may be more important for improving public opinion of the police than increasing the number of positive encounters. Early warning systems that identify officers who behave unprofessionally would be a step in the right direction. Police managers' routine management of media coverage may not have a significant impact on public opinion, so the focus should be on improving the quality of police-public interactions. 55 notes, extensive tables and figures, and appended New York community survey questionnaire and the study codebook

Date Published: December 1, 2003