Perceptions of Police Accountability and Integrity

Accountability

Nearly half of Americans (46%) believe police are not “generally held accountable for misconduct” when it occurs, while 54% believe they are. It is remarkable that nearly half believe misconduct “generally” is not brought to account. This view is held by larger shares of black and Hispanic Americans, younger people, lower income individuals, and Democrats.

About two-thirds (64%) of African Americans and 52% of Hispanics believe police “generally” are not held accountable for misconduct. In contrast, 57% of white Americans think police are held accountable.

Confidence in police accountability increases with age and income. Majorities of seniors (70%) and households earning more than $80,000 annually (60%) believe police are held accountable. In contrast, majorities of millennials (58%) and those earning less than $30,000 a year (54%) doubt police misconduct is punished.

Partisanship also strongly correlates with confidence in police accountability. Three-fourths (76%) of Republicans and a slim majority of independents (51%) believe police are held to account. In contrast, nearly 6 in 10 Democrats believe officers are not held accountable. These partisan differences are not merely a function of the parties’ racial compositions. Sixty-five percent (65%) of white Democrats also worry officers are not held accountable, compared to only 26% of white Republicans.

Perceptions of police accountability are highly correlated with favorability toward the police. Americans who believe the police are held accountable for misconduct (81%) are 35 points more favorable toward the police than those who doubt police are brought account (46%).

Integrity

Americans are also unconvinced that most police officers have integrity. Nearly half (49%) believe that “most police officers think they are above the law,” while 51% disagree. Perceptions vary widely across race and ethnicity, income, and partisanship.

Six in ten African Americans and Hispanics believe officers think they are above the law. In contrast, a majority (54%) of white Americans believe police officers don’t think they are above the law.

Democrats (61%) are also far more concerned than Republicans (36%) that the police think they are above the law. A majority (64%) of Republicans and a slim majority of independents (52%) think most police have integrity.

Majorities of millennials (63%) and of households making less than $30,000 (54%) a year believe that most officers think they are above the law, compared to 32% of seniors and 37% of households earning $80,000 or more annually. Instead, majorities of these $80K+ households (63%) and seniors (68%) believe police follow the law.

Institutions need legitimacy to function. A belief in the rule of law (and not individuals) fosters their legitimacy. It is thus problematic that nearly half of all Americans and majorities of blacks, Hispanics, young people, Democrats, and lower income individuals think “most” police officers don’t believe the laws apply to them.


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