Opinions of Police Treatment


In 2015 I researched attitudes towards police treatment and whether attitudes were related to an individual’s characteristics or just political ideologies and party. The tables described in the essay appear within the link at the bottom of the page which is a pdf version of this essay.


Abstract

Using data collected from 1,501 people, chosen at random across the United States, this study explores the public attitudes towards how police treat ethnic and racial groups and six particular research questions: (1) Does age factor into the attitude towards the police?; (2) Do attitudes toward police officers differ base on gender?; (3) Does an individual’s political party determine how they view police officer’s treatment towards others?; (4) Is political ideology a factor in determining the individual’s opinion?; (5) If someone is an evangelical Christian, do they view differently than someone who is not?; (6) How do different races and ethnicities view police treatment? Using cross-tabulations, chi-squares, and lambdas the study suggests that the majority of people, no matter the differences, have a negative attitude towards the treatment of ethnic and racial groups by police, however, some associations are not strong enough to be used to definitively prove the public’s opinion. The article concludes with a discussion of weaknesses to the data results and in the case of future inquiries.


Introduction

Individuals within the United States must have a clearer understanding of public opinion on the account of the police’s treatment of minorities. Due to recent events, including but not limiting to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; the case of Eric Garner in Brooklyn, NY; and Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC; has raised concerns of how police officers treat and handle individuals of different ethnicities and races. It has been ingrained in the mindset of American society, due to media, that negative attitudes towards police come usually from individuals who are either lower income, young or belonging to a different racial-ethnic group (Dowler). However, the effect of media is irrelevant to this study and the data analyzed in this study rejects those assumptions and finds the majority of people who have different ages, race or ethnicities, gender, and religions see the treatment by police as unethical. The other two variables, political parties, and ideologies, showed that the right, referring to a political spectrum, is slightly optimistic of police treatment toward civilians of different racial and ethnic backgrounds; however, a large minority believes that there are inequalities happening that must be fixed.


Review of Literature

Due to the recent events of police treatment towards African-American citizens, Gallup poll conducted a study of how confident Caucasians, Hispanic’s, and African-Americans are in their local police (Jones). The company polled 47 U.S. counties that included the country’s largest metropolitan areas. Gallup used race-ethnicity as their independent variable and compared them with the place of residence of either urban or rural (Jones). The cross-tabulation suggests that Caucasians are more confident in police in both urban and rural areas averaging about 61%. Hispanics are second with 59% of the respondents living in rural areas and 54% living in urban areas. African-Americans, however, are below with an average 34% of respondents saying they feel confident in the areas in which they live (Jones). Alongside Gallup is another study that was published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, collected from roughly 5,500 students to determine the viewpoint youths have towards police. The 2001 study conducted by Terrance Taylor, K.B Turner, Finn-Aage Esbensen, and L. Thomas Winfree Jr., asks five specific research questions to understand how the attitudes towards police are affected by a youth’s gender, racial-ethnic groups, city in which individual lives, whether the area of residence is connected to the interaction with race-ethnicity, and if youths hold optimistic opinions of police, similar to adults (Taylor). For the current study however it is only relevant to look at race-ethnicity and gender. The results of this finding of race and ethnicity were that youths are more indifferent in their attitudes towards police; while the results for gender proved that females view more optimism toward police than do men. These results from Gallup poll and the Journal of Criminal Justice give the current study relatable research to borrow from; however, there is still a question of how strong these arguments actually are (Taylor).


Data and Methods 

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2010. For this study, however, the six variables looked at to find a relationship between question 24.c, the opinion of how police treat ethnic and racial groups are: (1) Age in order to determine if there is a generational gap between how people view this particular issue. Age had to be re-coded in order to easily sort through the 1,416 respondents who answered the question. Age groups were based on different generations with an ascending order; (2) Gender to understand how men and women either differ or agree on the treatment by police officers; (3) Political partisanship to understand how political views affect the opinion of how police treat minorities; (4) Political ideology in matter of how the nation is split in terms of social issues; (5) Born-Again Christian to see whether a particular religious identity affects how an individual answers; (6) Race-ethnicity of respondent to determine if opinions of police officers are affected by a societal problem concerning minorities. Multiple hypotheses are given for this study: (1) On the matter of age, group one, ages 18-25, would have the highest percentage of people who felt pessimistic or somewhat pessimistic about the treatment by police; (2) Gender would be closely related giving a ten percent leeway; (3) Political parties would be split with more democrats and independent voters viewing a negative reaction; (4) On account of political ideology more individuals whom consider themselves as ultra-liberal, liberal, or moderates would consider the treatment by police as unjust and unethical, rather than conservatives; (5) Born-Again Christians would have a more optimistic attitude towards police rather than non-Evangelicals; (6) More African-Americans, Hispanics, and other race and/or ethnicities would have a negative view of police treatment than those of Caucasians.

In order to determine the significance between each variable and the dependent variable of police treatment, a cross-tabulation with a chi-square was used. On the cross-tabulation, column percentages were given in order to compare different characteristics and groups; however just because a study is statistically significant does not mean that it is a strong relationship. Lambdas were used in order to give whether or not the data was considered to be a strong, moderate, or weak association.


Project Findings

The dependent variable, shown in Table set one, is how good of job police departments around the country are doing when treating racial and ethnic groups equally. The respondent could either answer as poor, only fair, good, or excellent. According to the frequency distribution, 30.7% of respondents agreed that police are doing a poor job when treating minorities equitably. The maximum percentage of people, 33.9%, responded that police are doing an only fair job at treating minorities equitably.

Table set two shows the relationship between the dependent variable and the respondent’s age, which was re-coded according to years within certain generations, the results found that the null hypothesis could be rejected. 74.7% individuals grouped between ages 18-25, which most are college students; felt that police did a poor or only fair job when dealing with different races and ethnic groups. The individuals between ages 26-45 and 46-64, which make up the majority of the labor force, were relatively close with about 69% of people viewing police as doing a poor or only fair job. Retirees or adults 65 and older had the same opinion as the rest of the people, however, only about 56% agreed. According to the chi-square, these results were significantly significant, but the lambda found that there is a weak association between age and police treatment. This is accurate considering more than half of each group considers there being an issue with police.

According to the study in the Journal of Criminal Justice, females are more inclined to be optimistic about police (Taylor). However, the table set three of the current study suggests otherwise with 67.8% of female respondents stating that police do an only fair or a poor job when treating other races and ethnic groups equally; which is 6.3% more than males. The chi-square suggests that the results are significant with an alpha level of .008 and that the null hypothesis is rejected. However, this does not mean that this is a strong relationship between the independent and dependent variables. According to the lambda results, there is actually no relationship between the two variables which ultimately rejects the theory that gender determines public opinion.

Race-ethnicity differences have been one of the biggest topics recently due to the events that have unfolded in the last year. According to the cross-tabulation shown in table-set four, more than half of each ethnic and/or race group believes that police are doing considerably poor or only fair when trying to treat ethnic groups equally. White non-Hispanics were the lowest percentage of people with 58%, while black non-Hispanics were the highest with 91.4%. The chi-square value was 150.947 which give these results the significance to determine that people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds view a problem, however the lambda score was at .08 which gives a weak association between the variables. The hypothesis is accepted due to the chi-square results and along with these results disproves arguments stating that only particular racial-ethnic groups view an issue.

Evangelical Christians is an interesting statistic represented in table set five, with only 989 respondents who answered the dependent variable and if they were Born-Again Christian or not, it was the only group that accepts the null hypothesis. The cross-tab shows that 58.1% of people, either Evangelical or not believes that police treatment towards race-ethnic groups is poor or only fair. The chi-square has an alpha level .071 which requires the statistics to not be significant and the lambda states that there is a weak association between the independent variable and dependent variable.

Political parties and ideologies, table sets six and seven, are two independent variables that are unique not because of the 1,300 respondents, but because these were the only two associations that were moderate in strength. 77.5% of democrats responded with poor or only fair, while republican respondents were at 43% when answering the same. The independent voters were just over 66% when answering with poor or only fair. In terms of ideologies moderates, liberals, or very liberal respondents were over 70% when putting the same answer of poor or only fair. As for the right of the political spectrum, conservative and very conservative respondents answered the question with the police doing a good job. The strength of these relationships was moderate with partisanship being at .111 and ideology being at .145. In conclusion to these results, respondents were more likely to pick based on their political partisanship and ideology, but the null hypothesis was rejected.


Conclusion

In conclusion to the findings, the research suggests that people who do not view a problem with how police treat race and ethnic groups are basing their views on political ideology and partisanship. However the fact that 64.6% of all respondents to question 24.c on the August 2010 Pew Research Center study view the job of police as poor or only fair shows that public opinion speaks clearly. Although there were no findings of strong relationships based on how people responded, the study supports that public opinion is not based on age, racial diversity, gender, or a particular belief, like the 2001 study. The contribution of this study is that it disproves arguments made that race, age, gender, and particular beliefs are what determine what the attitudes are towards police officers (Taylor).

There are multiple weaknesses in this study that can be including with future inquiry. Those weaknesses include the option not to run race-ethnicity and Evangelical Christians together and due to this, there leaves a question of how many African-Americans consider themselves as Born-Again Christians. The study also does not talk about all other religions but only specifically Evangelicals. The study has no intent of discriminating against these certain individuals; it was as hypothesis due to the political right using their religious beliefs to support their political practices. Future inquiries can look at how Jewish and Muslim individuals view this question as well. Another flaw in the study is not seeing how gender and political parties and ideologies correlate. The study could use some more descriptive statistics, such as correlations, gammas, and regressions. The next defect is that of only grouping age using one source. Generations can sometimes have multiple years listed from various sources, so not thoroughly investigating is a shortcoming. The final weakness of the study is that of location. Due to the broadness of the survey, it was intended not to focus on one specific area of the nation; however, the statistics that may come from that correlation may help analyze what makes people pessimistic or optimistic about how police officers treat racial and ethnic groups equitably.


References

Taylor, T., Turner, K., Esbensen, F., & Winfree Jr., L. (2001). Coppin’ an attitude: Attitudinal differences among juveniles toward police. Journal of Criminal Justice, 29(4), 295-305. Retrieved April 25, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047235201000897#

Dowler, K., & Zawilski, V. (2007). Public perceptions of police misconduct and discrimination: Examining the impact of media consumption. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35(2), 193-203. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047235207000207

Jones, J. (2014, December 8). Urban Blacks in U.S. Have Little Confidence in Police. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/179909/urban-blacks-little-confidence-police.aspx?utm_sour ce=CATEGORY_CRIME_AND_PERSONAL_SAFETY&utm_medium=topic&utm_ca mpaign=tiles


Again, to see the tables described in the essay, please click the link below. Tables will be on page 10 through 16.

Opinions of Police Treatment 

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