Throughout the course, a common theme was that strong relationships between police and community members have been lacking. In reference to the 1960’s, Rumbaut and Bittner point to the fact that the police are tasked with “doing the dirty work of society,” a role which they do not receive much praise for. In turn, police tend to band together, as they feel their coworkers are the only ones who truly understand them and what they do. The closeness of the police subsequently distances them from the community. Likewise, the 1968 Task Force Report discusses how the police face social isolation from the community. Today, police-community relations are still generally quite poor, as tensions remain high. A lack of understanding of the police on the community’s behalf is a big reason why.
A Pew Research Center article published in January of this year titled “Do you know what police think?” poses five statements regarding the current social climate and the actions of the police. Almost 8,000 police officers were surveyed and asked whether they agree with each statement, and their responses are compared to those of the public. For each question, the percentage of police who agreed was extremely different from that of the public. For example, while 83% of the public believes that the average police officer fires their service weapon while on duty at least once during their career, only 27% of the police expressed the same sentiment. Furthermore, 83% of the public believe they themselves understand the risks and challenges of policing at least somewhat well, while just 14% of the police feel the same way. Different factors certainly contribute to these huge discrepancies.
For one, many police-community interactions are negative. A great deal of police work still involves doing the dirty work, such as making arrests and pulling drivers over on the side of the road for various infractions. Thus, the only times that many community members are interacting with the police is when they are being warned or punished, leading them to have a negative perception of the police. Furthermore, the media exacerbates the issue. In most domains, the media tends to highlight negative stories more frequently than positive ones, and the same holds true for policing. Several major stories surrounding police work that have garnered nationwide attention in recent years are about police killing civilians. Again, many people have little interaction with the police, so they base their opinions of them off what information is available to them. The media portrayal of the police fosters feelings of resentment towards the job.
Improving police-community relations looks to be quite an uphill battle, especially considering it has been a point of emphasis in past task force reports yet little has changed. However, it’s not an impossible task. The first step to enhancing these relationships is ensuring that the public truly understands who the police are and what they do. Perhaps if the police became more actively involved in the community by volunteering or engaging in neighborhood events, or if the media put out more positive stories about policing, this first step can be made.