Behind the Badge: An Intimate Look into the True Opinions of Law Enforcement


America’s relationship with the men and women who enforce it’s laws has come to a crisis point. According to a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center conducted by the National Police Research Platform, the majority of officers surveyed said that “recent high-profile fatal encounters between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs riskier, aggravated tensions between police and blacks, and left many officers reluctant to fully carry out some of their duties.”

The questions lies in, have their jobs become harder? Or are they more monitored and now may actually face consequences. No longer are the deaths of innocent Black men and women falling on deaf ears, but apparently to law enforcemnt, that makes their job harder. Perhaps, the better term is- they are forced now to work towards doing their job well, and do it properly.

As written for

The wide-ranging survey, one of the largest ever conducted with a nationally representative sample of police, draws on the attitudes and experiences of nearly 8,000 policemen and women from departments with at least 100 officers.1 It comes at a crisis point in America’s relationship with the men and women who enforce its laws, precipitated by a series of deaths of black Americans during encounters with the police that have energized a vigorous national debate over police conduct and methods.

Within America’s police and sheriff’s departments, the survey finds that the ramifications of these deadly encounters have been less visible than the public protests, but no less profound. Three-quarters say the incidents have increased tensions between police and blacks in their communities. About as many (72%) say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of these high-profile incidents.

At the same time that black Americans are dying in encounters with police, the number of fatal attacks on officers has grown in recent years.  About nine-in-ten officers (93%) say their colleagues worry more about their personal safety – a level of concern recorded even before a total of eight officers died in separate ambush-style attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge last July.

The risk of loss of life comes as a risk known to all officers, it is not a fair comparison to compare the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police to the deaths of police where the risk of life comes with the territory. While tragic all the same, the disproportionate deaths of Black American’s at the hands of law enforcement cannot be justified or muted by saying police death have also been on the rise.

The survey also finds that officers remain deeply skeptical of the protests that have followed deadly encounters between police and black citizens. Two-thirds of officers (68%) say the demonstrations are motivated to a great extent by anti-police bias; only 10% in a separate question say protesters are similarly motivated by a genuine desire to hold police accountable for their actions. Some two-thirds characterize the fatal encounters that prompted the demonstrations as isolated incidents and not signs of broader problems between police and the black community – a view that stands in sharp contrast with the assessment of the general public.

This shows a deep disconnect between law enforcement and the citizen they are sworn to protect-  as that “in a separate Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, 60% say these incidents are symptoms of a deeper problem.”

The following information is snippets from the complete survey which can be viewed here:

Conflicting experiences and emotions mark police culture

Other survey findings underscore the duality of police work and the emotional toll that police work can take on officers. About eight-in-ten (79%) say they have been thanked by someone for their service in the month prior to the survey while on duty. But also during that time two-thirds say they have been verbally abused by a member of their community, and a third have fought or physically struggled with a suspect. A majority of officers (58%) say their work nearly always or often makes them feel proud. But nearly the same share (51%) say the job often frustrates them. More than half (56%) say their job has made them more callous.

Long-standing tensions between police and blacks underlie many of the survey results. While substantial majorities of officers say police have a good relationship with whites, Hispanics and Asians in their communities, 56% say the same about police relations with blacks. This perception varies dramatically by the race or ethnicity of the officer. Six-in-ten white and Hispanic officers characterize police relations with blacks as excellent or good, a view shared by only 32% of their black colleagues.

The racial divide looms equally large on other survey questions, particularly those that touch on race. When considered together, the frequency and sheer size of the differences between the views of black and white officers mark one of the singular findings of this survey. For example, only about a quarter of all white officers (27%) but seven-in-ten of their black colleagues (69%) say the protests that followed fatal encounters between police and black citizens have been motivated at least to some extent by a genuine desire to hold police accountable.

And when the topic turns more broadly to the state of race relations, virtually all white officers (92%) but only 29% of their black colleagues say that the country has made the changes needed to assure equal rights for blacks. Not only do the views of white officers differ from those of their black colleagues, but they stand far apart from those of whites overall: 57% of all white adults say no more changes are needed, as measured in the Center’s survey of the general public.

Which are the officers we need to listen to in these cases? The white officers cannot speak on what needs to be done to assure equal rights to blacks as , and the survey clearly shows that any moves towards this may draw contempt from White officers towards their Black counterparts, a mere 8% feel the need for improvement while most anyone who identifies as Black would tell you there is much to be done in terms of equality.

Public, police differ on some key issues

Further differences in attitudes and perceptions emerge when the views of officers are compared with those of the public on other questions. While two-thirds of all police officers say the deaths of blacks at the hands of police are isolated incidents, only about four-in-ten members of the public (39%) share this view while the majority (60%) believes these encounters point to a broader problem between police and blacks.

And while a majority of Americans (64%) favor a ban on assault-style weapons, a similar share of police officers (67%) say they would oppose such a ban.

On other issues the public and police broadly agree. Majorities of both groups favor the use of body cameras by officers to record interactions with citizens (66% of officers and 93% of the public). And about two-thirds of police (68%) and a larger share of the public (84%) believe the country’s marijuana laws should be relaxed, and a larger share of the public than the police support legalizing marijuana for both private and medical use (49% vs. 32%).

Officers worry about their safety and think the public doesn’t understand the risks they face

Fatal encounters between blacks and police have dominated the headlines in recent years. But the story took on another twist with the ambush-style attack that killed five police officers last summer in Dallas. Because these attacks occurred while the survey was in the field, it was possible to see if safety concerns of officers were affected by the incidents by comparing views before and after the assault.

Overall, the vast majority of officers say they have serious concerns about their physical safety at least sometimes when they are on the job. Some 42% say they nearly always or often have serious concerns about their safety, and another 42% say they sometimes have these concerns. The share of police saying they often or always have serious concerns about their own safety remained fairly consistent in interviews conducted pre-Dallas to post-Dallas.

While physical confrontations are not a day-to-day occurrence for most police officers, they are not altogether infrequent. A third of all officers say that in the past month, they have physically struggled or fought with a suspect who was resisting arrest. Male officers are more likely than their female counterparts to report having had this type of encounter in the past month – 35% of men vs. 22% of women. And white officers (36%) are more likely than black officers (20%) to say they have struggled or fought with a suspect in the past month. Among Hispanic officers, 33% say they had an encounter like this.

Although police officers clearly recognize the dangers inherent in their job, most believe the public doesn’t understand the risks and challenges they face. Only 14% say the public understands these risks very or somewhat well, while 86% say the public doesn’t understand them too well or at all.4 For their part, the large majority of American adults (83%) say they do understand the risks law enforcement officers face.

And police express serious concerns about resource limitations. At the most basic level, most police (86%) say their department does not have enough officers to adequately police the community.

Most officers say their use-of-force guidelines are appropriate and helpful

As many departments grapple with use-of-force policies and training, most officers say their own agency’s guidelines strike the right balance. About one-in-four (26%) say the rules governing use of force in their department are too restrictive, while 73% say they are about right (1% say the guidelines are not restrictive enough).

Black officers are much more likely than white or Hispanic officers to say they worry more that officers will not spend enough time diagnosing a situation before acting (61% for blacks vs. 37% for whites and 44% of Hispanics). Overall, blacks and department administrators (59%) are the only two major groups in which a majority is more concerned that officers will act too quickly than worry that they will wait too long before responding to a situation.

the rigAs many departments grapple with use-of-force policies and training, most officers say their own agency’s guidelines strike the right balance. About one-in-four (26%) say the rules governing use of force in their department are too restrictiveht balance between acting decisively versus taking time to assess a situation, police tend to be more concerned that officers in their department will spend too much time diagnosing a situation before acting (56% worry

Officers give their departments mixed ratings for their disciplinary processes. About half (45%) agree that the disciplinary process in their agency is fair, while 53% disagree (including one-in-five who strongly disagree). When they are asked more specifically about the extent to which underperforming officers are held accountable, police give more negative assessments of their departments. Only 27% agree that officers who consistently do a poor job are held accountable, while 72% disagree with this.

It is striking to note that 72% of officers believe that police who perform poorly are duly reprimanded- if that is what is occurring within the ranks, why aren’t we seeing discipline to be of the highest priority? Does that mean that many officers who are responsible of policing us do not have the merit to do so?

Most officers have had at least some training in key areas of reform

Reforming law enforcement tactics and procedures – particularly as they relate to the use of force – has become an important focus both inside and outside the police department. In the wake of recent fatalities of blacks during encounters with police, recommendations have been made to prevent these types of situations from occurring.

The survey finds broad support among police, especially administrators, for the use of body cameras. Even so, officers are somewhat skeptical that their use would change police behavior. Half of all officers say body cameras would make police more likely to act appropriately, while 44% say this wouldn’t make any difference.

Despite the national attention given to training and reforms aimed at preventing the use of unnecessary force, relatively few (half or fewer rank-and-file officers) report having had at least four hours of training in some specific areas over the preceding 12 months.

About half of rank-and-file officers say they have had at least four hours of firearms training in the last 12 months involving shoot-don’t shoot scenarios (53%) and nonlethal methods to control a combative or threatening individual (50%). Some 46% of officers have had at least four hours of training in how to deal with individuals who are having a mental health crisis, and 44% say they have had at least four hours of training in how to de-escalate a situation so it is not necessary to use force.

About four-in-ten officers say they have received at least four hours of training in bias and fairness (39%) and how to deal with people so they feel they’ve been treated fairly and respectfully (37%).

Only 1/4th of officers surveyed got 4 hours of less of sensitivity training, do you think this is sufficient for an officer to truly eliminate bias and be fair on any significant level? The number of officers coupled with the very limited amount of time allocated to this reform would indicate not.

Most officers say high-profile incidents have made policing harder

Whether an officer works in a department that employs hundreds or thousands of sworn officers or is located in a quiet suburb or bustling metropolis, police say their jobs are harder now as a consequence of recent high-profile fatal incidents involving blacks and police.

Overall, fully 86% of officers say their jobs are harder, including substantial majorities of officers in police departments with fewer than 300 officers as well as those working in “mega departments” with 2,600 officers or more (84% and 89%, respectively). In fact, across every major demographic group analyzed for this survey, about eight-in-ten officers or more say these high-profile incidents have made policing more challenging and more dangerous.

While the impact of these incidents is broadly felt, officers in larger departments are far more likely than those in small agencies to say these incidents have had an impact.

Police in larger departments also are more likely than those in small agencies to say officers in their department are more reluctant to use force to control a suspect even when it is appropriate, a move that police critics may view as a positive sign but others may see as putting officers at increased risk.

The survey also found that roughly half (46%) of officers say fatal encounters between blacks and police in recent years have prompted their department to modify their use-of-force policies.

While the officers may now find their jobs more challenging, it is in direct relation to the response the American public has had in regards to high profile cases involving the officer related deaths of Blacks. If their job is harder now because of the standards implemented to keep the American public safe, then so be it.

Some of the more dangerous trends that surveyed policed voiced their opinion on were revealed:

Majority of police view fatal encounters as isolated incidents

Two-thirds of police officers (67%) say the highly publicized fatal encounters between police and blacks are isolated incidents, while 31% describe them as signs of a broader problem. Yet underlying this result are striking differences between the views of black and white officers – differences that mirror the broader fault lines in society at large on racial issues.

A majority of black officers (57%) say these encounters are evidence of a broader problem between police and blacks, a view held by only about a quarter of all white (27%) and Hispanic (26%) officers.

Black female officers in particular are more likely to say these incidents signal a more far-reaching concern. Among all sworn officers, 63% of black women say this, compared with 54% of black men.

About half of black officers (53%) say that whites are treated better than minorities in their department or agency when it comes to assignments and promotions. Few Hispanic (19%) or white officers (1%) agree. About six-in-ten white and Hispanic officers say minorities and whites are treated the same (compared with 39% of black officers).

This is again indicative of how most White officers are blind to their privilege and how there is not acknowledgment of a broader problem law enforcement has with minorities, especially Blacks, until this is acknowledged the divide will widen and more high profile loss of life is sure to occur.

Widespread doubts about protesters’ motives

Most police officers are deeply skeptical of the motives of the demonstrators who protested after many of the deadly encounters between police and blacks. Fully nine-in-ten (92%) believe that long-standing bias against the police is a great deal (68%) or some (24%) of the motivation behind these demonstrations. In sharp contrast, only about a third (35%) of officers say in a separate question that a genuine desire to hold officers accountable for their actions is at least some of the motivation for the protests.

Once again, race pushes police in opposite directions. Among black officers, 69% say the protests were sincere efforts to force police accountability – more than double the proportion of whites (27%) who share this view. Female officers, older police and department administrators also are more likely than male officers, younger police and rank-and-file officers to believe protesters genuinely seek police accountability.

Large majorities of officers (92%) and the public (79%) say anti-police bias is at least somewhat of a motivation for those protesting the deaths of blacks at the hands of police. Majorities of police and the public favor the use of body cameras by officers, though a significantly larger share of the public supports their use (93% vs. 66%) and sees more benefits from body cams than the police do.

Support for aggressive, physical tactics

The law gives police great discretion in how they interact with citizens. Depending on the situation, these techniques can range from polite persuasion to the use of forceful and more pointed verbal commands to the extreme physical measures that officers sometimes use, often as a last resort, to control threatening or combative individuals. The use of these more severe techniques has been a main focus of the national debate over police methods.

To measure their attitudes toward more aggressive tactics, officers were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with two statements. The first statement read, “In certain areas of the city it is more useful for an officer to be aggressive than to be courteous.” The second measured support for the assertion that “some people can only be brought to reason the hard, physical way.”

A narrow majority of officers (56%) feel that in some neighborhoods being aggressive is more effective than being courteous, while 44% agree or strongly agree that hard, physical tactics are necessary to deal with some people.

On both measures, a larger share of younger, less senior officers and those with less than five years of experience favor these techniques, while proportionally fewer older, more experienced officers or department administrators endorse them.

A majority of officers say they have become more callous

There’s a saying in police work that officers see things the public doesn’t see – and also things the public shouldn’t see. Exposure to the dark side of life, coupled with the stress that officers encounter working in high-pressure situations or with hostile individuals, means that many officers may pay an emotional price for their service.

For example, a 56% majority of officers say they have become more callous toward people since taking their job. Younger officers and white officers are more likely than older or black officers to say they have become more callous.

Officers who report they have grown more callous are also more likely than their colleagues to endorse aggressive or physically harsh tactics with some people or in some parts of the community. They also are more likely than other officers to say they are frequently angered or frustrated by their jobs or to have been involved in a physical or verbal confrontation with a citizen in the past month or to have fired their service weapon while on duty at some point in their careers.

It is difficult to discern with these data whether increased callousness is a primary cause or a consequence of feelings of anger or frustration, or attitudes toward aggressive tactics. However, the data suggest that these feelings and behaviors are related. For example, officers who sense they have become more callous on the job are about twice as likely as those who say they have not to say their job nearly always or often makes them feel angry (30% vs. 12%). They also are more likely to feel frustrated by their job (63% vs. 37%).

Among those officers who say they have become more callous, about four-in-ten (38%) physically struggled or fought with a suspect in the previous month compared with 26% of those who say they have not become more insensitive.

The most glaring results of this study would have to be the variation of opinion on race relations and the correlation of the offer’s race and their view about equality rights, and the need for reform within the system. It was the  White officers more likely than black officers to have had a physical altercation with a suspect, and officers of color who felt passed up for promotions. Is this because they are the ones less likely to have altercations, are less aggressive, and the ones who voice the  need for reform? Up to 72% of officers do not feel that their fellow colleagues faced adequate consequences when found guilty of wrongdoing, and that is not a good sign within the ranks.

How do you interpret these findings? What do you make of the disparity of opinion when it comes to White and Black officers on the topic that there is a broader problem at hand when it comes to incidents involving police related deaths of unarmed Black American, and what is it indicative of? What are your thoughts on some of the views shared by the officers surveyed? Tell us in our comment section below.

(Article By Tasha Sharifa)