While most Americans are satisfied with their local police departments, there are significant differences by race. Today’s Monmouth University Poll found African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to report that a family member has been harassed by the police and African-Americans are particularly wary of police using military-grade equipment to quell violent demonstrations. The poll was conducted before the recent events in Baltimore.
More than 7-in-10 Americans are satisfied with the job their local police department is doing, including 40% who are very satisfied and 32% who are somewhat satisfied. Only 18% are dissatisfied and another 10% are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. There are some significant differences in this attitude by race. While 78% of whites and 66% of Latinos are happy with their local police, just half (50%) of black Americans feel the same.
Overall, 42% of Americans report that a member of their immediate family has ever been arrested and 26% say that a family member has been harassed by the police. African-Americans (55%) are more likely than whites (41%) and Latinos (38%) to report an arrest in their family. Blacks (38%) and Latinos (35%) are more likely than whites (21%) to report experiencing police harassment.
The poll also asked about positive encounters where the police helped keep a family member safe in a potentially dangerous situation. Overall, 32% of Americans report having this positive experience with the police, including similar percentages of Latinos (36%), whites (33%) and blacks (28%).
“Black Americans’ perceptions of the police were negative before the events in Baltimore this week,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “While violent demonstrations may hurt African-American communities as much as any other group, blacks overall are more distrustful of the tactics police may employ to deal with these situations.”
Another controversial topic that divides racial opinion is the use of military surplus equipment and weapons by local police departments. In general, most Americans (61%) say that military grade equipment, such as mine-resistant vehicles, should only be available to the military and National Guard. An even larger majority (72%) say the same about surplus weapons such as grenade launchers and high-powered assault rifles. While Americans prefer to leave military equipment in the hands of the military, most feel that their own local police force would use these resources wisely if they had them. Nearly 6-in-10 are generally confident about this – 23% very confident and 35% somewhat confident – but there is a sharp racial divide in this opinion. Fully two-thirds (66%) of whites and a majority (53%) of Latinos are confident in how their local police would use this equipment, but only 35% of blacks feel the same.
The poll also found that public opposition to local police using military equipment dissolves when asked about using these supplies in specific situations. Overall, 7-in-10 Americans approve of police departments using non-weaponized military equipment to investigate and root out terrorism – 50% strongly approve and 21% somewhat approve – and 6-in-10 approve of using this equipment to deal with gang violence – 38% strongly and 23% somewhat. Majorities also approve of using military surplus equipment to crack down on drugs – 34% strongly and 18% somewhat – and to deal with riots and violent demonstrations – 29% strongly and 27% somewhat.
African-Americans are less likely than whites and Latinos to approve of local police using military equipment in each of these situations. The difference is 8 to 14 percentage points for terrorism, gangs, and drugs, but there is a much more sizable difference of opinion for using military equipment to quell riots and violent demonstrations. While 61% of whites and 56% of Latinos approve of police using military equipment in riot situations, only 34% of blacks say the same.
The Monmouth University Poll also found that nearly 3-in-4 Americans are worried – 38% very worried and 36% somewhat worried – that a terrorist attack will occur on U.S. soil in the next few years and nearly 2-in-3 are worried – 26% very and 39% somewhat – that race riots and violent demonstrations will increase. Half are worried about illegal drug or gang activity in their area – 23% very and 27% somewhat – or about a terrorist attack occurring within 200 miles of their home – 21% very and 28% somewhat. There are no significant racial differences in the level of these concerns.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 30 to April 2, 2015 with 1,005 adults in the United States. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.1 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.