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Factors That Influence Public Opinion of the Police

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2003
17 pages
This document presents the results of a study on factors that influence public opinion of the police.
A survey was mailed to residents in four diverse areas of Los Angeles. Using a series of questions, two aspects of police performance--job approval and officer demeanor--were measured. The results show residents’ perception of the level of crime and disorder in their neighborhood was a significant factor shaping their opinion of the police. Residents with informal police contacts had more positive perceptions than residents with formal contacts. Residents’ opinion of police performance did not vary by race or ethnicity in disorderly neighborhoods. Race and ethnicity did seem to play a role in residents’ assessment of officers’ demeanor. The media did not affect residents’ approval of police job performance or their perception of officers’ demeanor. Police can improve public opinion by increasing their informal contacts with citizens. Police can increase residents’ approval of their job performance by participating in community meetings, increasing officers’ visibility in neighborhoods, and talking with citizens. These informal contacts had a positive impact on job approval ratings even when other factors associated with lower approval ratings--such as residents’ perceptions that their neighborhoods were crime ridden, dangerous, and disorderly--were present. Informal contacts with police also lessened the negative impact of residents’ formal contacts with police, such as being arrested or questioned by police. Residents with both types of contact reported higher approval ratings than residents with only formal contact. 5 exhibits, 5 notes

Date Published: June 1, 2003