• Florida Results Presented in Context with Answers from 1,000 Adults Nationally
  • Support for Black Lives Matter Grew Markedly from 2016 to 2017
  • Overall Public Confidence in Criminal Courts and Juries Appears Muted

ST. LEO, FL – Surveys by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) show a pattern with somewhat more than 50 percent of the population espousing high levels of trust in police and police departments in America, while a persistent population of 20 to nearly 24 percent over three years reporting that they have little to no trust and confidence in departments and officers.

Also, the most recent survey in the series shows that as of September 2017, 90.5 percent nationally somewhat agree or strongly agree that police officers should be required to wear body cameras “to better assist reviewing difficult incidents.”  This question had 86.8 percent somewhat and strongly agreeing in 2015, and 89 percent in 2016.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute asked these questions, along with many others, concerning trust in policing and the criminal justice system during its wide-ranging national fall poll of 1,000 respondents. The survey was conducted from September 10 to September 16. The polling institute also surveyed 500 Florida respondents separately, but during the same time frame.

The polling institute has consistently visited this broad area of public concerns in its fall poll, beginning in 2015. With some specific topics, one or two questions have been added to keep pace with developing events. The margin of error for the polls is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the national sample, and 4.5 for the Florida sample, meaning the results could be off by that many percentage points in either direction. Generally, Florida (the home of Saint Leo University Polling Institute) mirrored the nation in sentiments on these topics.

The survey has consistently asked respondents to quantify their levels of trust and confidence in law enforcement and justice authorities by thinking about their level of confidence that in any interactions with the authorities, they would be treated in a fair, impartial and objective manner.

Respondents were given a scale of one to 10 to determine their replies. Answers between one and four indicate strong levels of trust, while seven was the point where people show declining levels of trust all the way down to 10, which indicates no trust at all.

Police officers as individuals are strongly trusted by 56.5 percent nationally, and 56.4 percent in Florida. Officers received little to no trust from 23.7 percent of the population nationally, and 22.8 percent in Florida. The year 2016 was slightly more positive, with 60.5 nationally giving officers high trust levels, and 20.2 low trust levels. Otherwise, results have not varied significantly over time.

Police departments are strongly trusted by 55.5 percent of the population nationally, and 57.2 percent in Florida. Low trusting and non-trusting respondents accounted for 22.5 percent of respondents nationally, and 22.2 percent in Florida. The 2016 results nationally were slightly more supportive of police departments, as high trust marks were given by 59.6 percent of the population, and low and no-trust marks came from 19.8 percent.

Respondents were given the opportunity in separate questions to rate the quality and professionalism of their own community police officers on a scale of one (for very good) to 10 (for very poor), as well as the quality of their local police officers. The results show that 56.1 percent of the respondents nationally rate their police officers as good or very good. Florida was comparable with 53.7 percent. Poor scores came from 23.4 percent of respondents nationally, and 23.8 in Florida. The scores were slightly more supportive in 2016, when 60.9 percent of respondents nationally assigned high marks to their local police officers, and 20.6 assigned low scores. The other results are quite similar year-to-year-to-year.

In rating local departments, 56.5 percent of national respondents give their local departments high marks, as do 53.3 percent of Florida respondents. Poor ratings came from 24.5 percent of respondents nationally, and 26.4 percent in Florida. As with local officers, local departments rated modestly higher in the national sample in 2016, when high marks were assigned by 60.7 percent of respondents and marks for low quality from 20.5 percent.

The study is designed to include a demographic base that is representative of the country’s population, which allows for comparisons of trends in answers with various income, age, ethnic, political, religious, economic, and educational backgrounds. The data show that the groups of people most likely to be happy with their local police and departments, as well as law enforcement and police departments in general, report more than $100,000 in household income. They are white, Republican or conservative politically, at least age 36 (with a greater percentage age 55 and above even more approving), and possibly Catholic. Gender did not seem to be a factor.

It is clear that those demographic groups are favorably disposed to police and departments because the ratings they assigned on the pertinent questions were higher than the overall average for entire survey sample. For instance, while 56.5 percent of the overall national sample gave their community police department good marks, 72.3 percent of those ages 55 and older awarded good marks, making the older constituents the ones most satisfied with their local police departments.

The national demographics also showed that among African-Americans and Hispanics, responses reflecting trust and good reviews occurred less often than average. While 56.1 percent of the overall sample gave their police officers in their own community good reviews, high marks were awarded by 44.2 percent of Hispanics and 43.7 percent of African-Americans. And while 56.5 percent of the sample showed significant trust in police officers generally to treat people impartially, 43.8 percent of Hispanics indicated this level of trust and only 41.7 percent of African-Americans.

The results were reviewed by Saint Leo University criminal justice faculty member Dr. Moneque Walker-Pickett. “These lower positive responses from African-Americans and Hispanics may reflect rising national claims of police officer mistreatment toward ethnic minorities,” she said.  “There is also a growing body of research that indicates many minority youth do not believe police are there to protect them.”

In Courthouses
Trust has also been rated for three years in the judicial system, specifically including courts, prosecutors and judges. Strong levels of trust were ascribed to the system by 48.6 percent of the population nationally, and 49.6 percent in Florida. Those with little to no trust in this branch of the government account for 25.1 percent of the respondents nationally, and 25.6 percent in Florida.

The results don’t vary significantly from 2016. The 2017 results are a bit improved from 2015, the first year for this line of questioning. Then, 40.3 percent of respondents nationally said they had strong trust in the judicial system nationally, and 43.2 said the same in Florida. But nationally 29.8 percent reported little to no trust. Florida data showed 29.7 percent had little to no trust in 2015.

Expanding on the courthouse venue, another question was added in 2016 and repeated in September 2017, asking people their level of trust in juries to do the right thing. Nationally, 47.2 percent report strong trust in juries, while Florida respondents with strong trust are at 49.4 percent. Those at the other end of the spectrum, with little to no trust in juries are 24.4 percent nationally and 24.8 percent in Florida. That set of data is comparable to 2016.

The people who showed trust most often in the judicial system and in juries—the responses they gave exceed the overall average population rating—are among the same groups who are most comfortable with law enforcement. These groups were white respondents, Republicans and conservatives, people older than 55, possibly Catholic, and people with some post-college education. They report having $100,000 or more in annual family income.

Among African-American respondents, only 33.9 percent nationally report strong trust in the judicial system when, by contrast, 48.6 percent of the sample overall reports the highest levels of trust. Of Hispanic respondents, 39.5 percent report strong trust in the judicial system.

As for juries, 37.8 percent of African-American respondents have strong trust that juries will do the right thing, compared to the 47.2 percent of the overall sample who report strong trust in their fellow citizens on juries. Among Hispanic respondents, 40.7 percent report strong trust in juries.

“The lower levels of trust among African-American and Hispanic respondents may reflect doubts about the accuracy of the judicial system,” said Dr. Walker-Pickett, who holds a law degree as well as a doctorate in sociology. “There were 166 exonerations in the United States in 2016, continuing a trend that has been on the rise,” she said. “When looking at the number of exonerations, more than two–thirds of exonerees (those wrongly convicted) were minorities, and half of those exonerated are African-American.”

Opinions on Hot-Button Topics
The survey presented respondents with a series of statements about topics that surface frequently and asked them to indicate whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree (or don’t know). In some cases, a majority of 51 percent or more may agree with a statement when strongly and somewhat statements are combined, but a sizable population can disagree strongly. Some statements, on the other hand, generated strong agreement across the board.

For instance, this is the section of the survey that revealed that 90.5 percent of the national base strongly or somewhat support use of body-worn cameras by officers. That is a slight upward trend from prior years. In Florida, 90.8 percent agree; the base for the first year the question was asked, 2015, the combined agreement level was 88.1 percent.

There is also high combined agreement—85.7 percent—with having the U.S. Justice Department investigate community police departments following controversial incidents. In Florida it was 85 percent. In both instances, combined agreement levels started high.

“Between the ‘All Lives Matter,’ ‘Police Lives Matter,’ and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements,” Dr. Walker-Pickett said, “this high level of support for police-worn body cameras shows a public desire for a neutral arbiter in the evaluation of victims, police officer conduct, and police officer misconduct.”

Nearly three-quarters, 74.5 percent, somewhat or strongly agree that the killing of police officers is inflaming racial tensions nationwide. In Florida, 75.2 percent said the same. That sentiment was in the mid-60-percent range or low-70-percent range in prior years in both geographic samples.

There was more agreement nationally this year, at 63.9 percent, with the statement that a respondent had a positive interaction or conversation with community police officers unrelated to law enforcement. That is compared to 58 percent in 2016 and 59.7 percent in 2015. In Florida, 66.6 percent somewhat or strongly agree they have had positive interactions, up sharply from 45.4 percent the previous year. The agreement level was a more moderate 58.8 percent in 2015 in Florida.

“Many police departments have begun a push for community-oriented policing” Dr. Walker-Pickett said. “Social media has made it easier for departments to showcase their commitments to community interaction. These higher numbers may be reflective of the agencies’ efforts.”

More people also agree, strongly or somewhat, that they support the Black Lives Matter movement. Nationally 50.1 percent report supporting the movement in 2017, up sharply from 38.4 percent in 2016, the first year the question could be posed about the new movement. In Florida, support came to 50.2 percent, up from 40.4 percent the previous year.

National demographic data show that 80.3 percent of African-Americans surveyed support BLM; 52.1 percent of Hispanics; and 44.7 percent of whites. African-Americans comprise 12.7 percent of the survey respondents, close to the figure reported in 2016 U.S. Census figures, which put the African-American population nationally at 13.3 percent. All that means a widened base of support for Black Lives Matter from various racial groups had to occur for support level to reach 50 percent in a general-population survey.

“This may indicate an increase in support for the Black Lives Matter movement due to increased public visibility in social media and at the grassroots level,” Dr. Walker-Pickett said. “After the 2016 election, the social environment has changed, becoming more supportive of social action and non-violent protest. This may also reflect an expression of attitudes following a summer that included the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.”

Still, there are gaps: 28.8 percent of whites nationally strongly disagree that they support Black Lives Matter, as do 22.1 percent of Hispanics nationally.

The survey presented a new statement for the first time in 2017 to test levels of agreement or disagreement on perceived police bias. Even though questions inquired into levels of public confidence in police elsewhere in the survey, this statement was worded more narrowly: “Law enforcement officers treat everyone, regardless of race, fairly and evenly.” In the national sample, 45.8 percent strongly or somewhat agree, and in Florida, 47.6 percent strongly or somewhat agree. These results are 10 percentage points lower (more than 10 points in the national data) than when respondents were asked about trust in being “treated in a fair, impartial and objective manner if involved with law enforcement.”

Dr. Walker-Pickett offered a possible explanation. “According to the survey results, most white respondents report positive feelings and interaction with law enforcement.  With the majority of respondents being white, it is likely that a general question on fair treatment and impartially by law enforcement produced a response without any consideration to race.  However, when specifically asked to consider race when thinking about fairness and bias in law enforcement, the responses indicate that respondents may in fact believe some law enforcement officers treat minorities differently.”

A different statement tested for knowledge or experience of alleged mistreatment by police. Those who strongly or somewhat agree that either they had, or know someone who has,  experienced abuse by police officers equal 38.7 percent of the survey nationally,  up from 32 percent in 2016 and 35.7 percent in 2015. In Florida, 36.6 percent agree strongly or somewhat with the statement in the most recent survey, compared to 33.8 percent in 2016, and 33.7 percent in 2015.

Media contacts:
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Our Research
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted September 10-16, 2017. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, 500 distinct respondents approximately proportional to state population contribution were surveyed also from September 10-16, 2017. The results have a margin for error of +/-4.5% at a 95% confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.