A vast majority of the nation’s police officers say that high-profile police shootings of African-Americans in recent years have made their jobs more difficult and put their safety in greater peril, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
The survey of law enforcement officers also revealed that increased attention and mass protests following those fatal police shootings have made officers more reluctant to use force or to stop people they view as suspicious.
Tensions between police and African-Americans escalated last year after the police shooting deaths of two black men in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La., and the revenge assassinations of police officers in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, the latter by a Kansas City man.
In Kansas City, ongoing efforts between police and community leaders helped calm concerns and keep peace in the city.
None of the 8,000 officers who participated in the survey were from Kansas City.
The results expressed in the research shouldn’t be interpreted as representing views of police in Kansas City, but rather nationally representative of surveyed officers in more than 100 departments, said Capt. Stacey Graves, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Police Department.
“We (KCPD) are aware of the social issues of our nation and monitor events involving law enforcement across the country,” Graves said. “We will continue to remain focused on serving our community and building relationships to the best of our ability here in Kansas City.”
Among the survey findings:
▪ 86 percent of officers say their job is harder because of the high-profile fatal police shootings.
▪ 68 percent said demonstrations that followed fatal shootings were motivated by anti-police bias.
▪ 10 percent felt the protestors were motivated by a genuine desire to hold police accountable.
▪ 67 percent characterized fatal shootings as isolated incidents and not signs of broader problems between police and African-Americans.
▪ 60 percent of U.S. citizens who took part in a separate Pew survey said those fatal shootings represented deeper problems.
The survey was conducted from May 19 to Aug. 14 by the National Police Research Platform in conjunction with the Pew Research Center.
“Much of what is presented here reinforces or highlights what we already suspected,” said Ken Novak, a criminal justice and criminology professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “While there is some common ground between the police and the public, there is also important conflicting views. This is especially true regarding race and use of force, but also by tactics to promote public safety. The thin blue line appears alive and well.”
In recent years, Kansas City police officers and training recruits have been taught to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to avoid situations where they have to shoot someone who is threatening them. Last year, the department began testing the use of body-worn cameras for some of their officers.
The survey showed that a number of police departments, particularly larger departments, are taking steps to improve relations with minority communities in response to these fatal encounters between blacks and police and the protests that followed, said Rich Morin, a senior editor at Pew and one of the lead authors of the report.
“One of the major contributions of this survey is that it establishes an important baseline to monitor how relations between police and blacks are changing or not in the years ahead,” Morin said.
The Pew survey revealed a deep division in how officers view the country’s current state of race relations.
Roughly 92 percent of white officers say that the country has made changes to assure African-Americans have equal rights. By comparison, only 29 percent of African-American officers thought all races have access to true equality.
The findings also showed that 79 percent of officers say they have been thanked by someone for their service, and 67 percent of respondents said they have been verbally abused by a citizen while on duty.
“It can be dangerous to assume that ‘the police’ feel a particular way, or view society in a particular way — reality is more complicated than that,” Novak said. “Meaningful reform may require both sides to walk a mile in each other’s shoes; of course, this would require stepping across the thin blue line.”