public attitudes toward city police in a middle-sized northern city

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  • Public Attitudes Toward City Police in a Middle-Sized Northern City?

    Charles H. McCaghy, Ph.D.* Irving L. Allen, Ph.l). J. David Cdfax, Ph.D.

    In recent years the police in the United States have attained a cer- tain prominence in the eyes of their public. The mass media have docu- mented charges of police dishonesty and outright criminality in cities such as Denver and Chicago. The TY screen provides front row views of police confrontations with civil rights demonstrators, dissentient stu- dents on campus, and protestors of the \let ham War. We hear frequent claims of police brutality against minority group members and we see news photos of police crouching behind cars to avoid snipers bullets during racial rioting. And, finally, recent widely publicized Supreme Court decisions are cleurly predicated on the conclusion that hereto- fore police have not respected the rights of citizens during arrest and interrogation.

    Not only have police had greater exposure to the general public, but their role toward that police has been changing. IVith a proliferation of regulations which they must enforce, the police have been increasingly cxpected to impose their authority upon citizens who are not clearly criminal in the traditional sense of that term. Ttdays social unrest has brought the police into even greater conflict with the law-abiding citizen. In other words, the policemans role cannot be idealized as being a bulwark between society and those who seek to destroy it. An analogy suggested by Lord Devlin is that of the sheepdog who was originally employed to keep off the wolves but now strictly controls and harries the sheep themselves. According to Devlin, this change in the function of the police has profound negative effects on their relationships with the public. As James Q. \lilson succinctly put the problem: The fact that the police can no longer take for granted that noncriminal citizens are also nonhostile citizens may be the most important problem which even the

    tFrom a paper presented at the annual meetings of The Soclety for the Study of Social Problems in San Franclsco. August, 1967.

    Funds for this research were provided in part by National Science Foundation Institu- tional Grant #1896 made to Western Reserve University and by United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 0ff:ce of Educations Cooperative Research Program.

  • technically proficient department must face.* Thus it appears that the public image of the policeman is assailed by

    bad publicity and increased conflict with the nominally non-criminal seg- ment of society, The purpose of the study reported in this paper was to determine by interview survey the extent to which hostile attitudes to- ward police exist in a medium-sized Northern city, namely Hartford, Connecticut.

    Hartford had a population of 162,000 according to the 1960 census. In 1966 we estimate that about 25 percent of the population were Negro. At the time of the survey, June and July of 1966, there was little overt evidence of dissatisfaction with the police by Hartford residents. Later events, however, indicated there had been a growing dissatisfaction, particularly among the Negroes. This change is best illustrated by com- paring reactions to Kegro charges of police brutality in 1964 and in 1967.

    In the summer of 1964, a short-lived militant civil rights group, desperate for a program that would mobilize community support among the nearly 40,000 Negroes in the north end ghetto section of Hartford, launched a campaign charging police brutality. They urged residents to report all cases of brutality, rough treatment, name calling and abuse to the organization. The choice of this strategy seems to have been dictated largely by esternal events. This was a summer of numerous civil rights demonstrations in Mississippi and a time when charges of police brutality were beginning to be heard in many major cities. When ques- tioned about the local basis for the charges, however, the group was unable to provide any evidence of such behavior by Hartford police, and the group, consequently, was subjected to considerable derision. Clearly, at this point the local police had not become a legitimate target of civil rights protest.

    A year later, during the week of the Watts riots, several former members of the now-defunct group moved throughout the north end calling for similar action. They were arrested on charges of inciting not, and their cases dismissed several months later. Again, national events had prompted local efforts that apparently failed to take into account local conditions. Nevertheless, another link had been forged between the national racial scene and local anti-police activities.

    It was not until September, 1966, two months after our survey had been completed, that an incident occurred that provided a focus for Negro anti-police sentiment; ironically, it involved the state police and a state-wide civil rights group. When a group of welfare recipients, pri- marily from New Haven, staged a sit-in at the state welfare commission- ers office in Hartford, the state police were called in to expel them. Seventeen persons were arrested and several allegedly were beaten and injured by the police. Given the nature of the issue and the lack of com-


  • munity support for the demonstrators, little more than a formal investiga- tion resulted from the incident. Nevertheless, it provided evidence that the police would be used against demonstrators.

    It was not surprising, therefore, that the charge of police bnitality carried considerably more credence when it set off the not in July 1967 than it had a few years before. Between 1964 and 1967, anti-police senti- ment in the ghetto had become institutionalized. A sufficient number of events had occurred to provide a rationale for such attitudes, and,.al- though the local police may have done little if anything to deserve such animosity, they had came to represent oppressive authority to a sizable minority of ghetto residents.

    The Sample Survey Data

    The data for this study were collected as a part of a multi-purpose sample survey in the central city of Hartford, Connecticut, during June and July, 1966. The sample is a self-weighting two-stage stratified area probability sample of households. The first stage was a sample of all square block areas in the city. The primary units were selected with probabilities proportionate to the number of households on each block. At the second stage, every dwelling unit in each of the 100 selected pri- mary units was listed, and the lists of dwelling units were subsampled. The resulting overall sampling fraction was about 1/73. The sample was drawn such that about seven dwelling units were selected on each block, and interviews were completed in about six households. One respondent was randomly selected from all adults 30 years of age or over within each sample household. The sample is self-weighting for households but not for indivitluiil respondents, as each respondent had a probability of selection that was inversely proportionate to the number of adults in his housrhold.3 Interviews were conducted and wmpleted with 618 re- spondents which reprcsents an 85 percent completion of the drawn sample.

    Satisfaction With Policemens Job

    Despite the proliferation of criticism directed toward policemen, the citizens of Hartford on the whole appear to be satisfied with their performance. When asked, How do you feel about the kind of job the police are doing here in Hartford? 65.0 percent of the subjects were satisfied, 23.1 percent were somewhat satisfied, 7.9 percent were dissat- isfied, and 3.9 percent were unsure. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the respondents espressed unri~~alified satisfaction with the job their city policemen were doing. These figures bear a remarkable similarity to results on a nationwide NORC poll for the Presidents Crime Commis-


  • sion in response to Do you think that the police here do an excellent, good, fair, or a poor job of enforcing the laws?. To this, 67 percent answered excellent or good, 24 percent fair, and S percent poor.4

    It has been argued that the problem of police-community relations is primarily one of poor relations between the police and minority groups? Other studies have indicated that non-whites tend to be more critical of police than wliites.6 The present study reveals no esception to this conclusion; while 52.5 percent of the Negro sample ( N = 120) were satisfied with the police job, 68.1 percent of the whites (N = 498) were.

    In other studies, ses of respondent was found to be related to satis- faction with police performance. Gourley, in his Los Angeles study, found men to be more favorable toward police; but women were more likely to claim ignorance about police.? An NORC poll indicated that Negro women were more critical than Negro men but that little differ- ence existed between white men and women.* The results for our study are: 72.4 percent of the 2-46 males expressed satisfaction while 60.2 per- cent of the 372 females did so. While controlling for race, our data fail to reveal that Negro women are more critical than Negro men. Instead, we find that among Negro females, 9.9 percent were unsure, while their proportions in the Somewhat satisfied and Dissatisfied cate- gories were nearly identical to Negro males. -4inong white females 5.5 percent were unsure while the rest of the distribution indicated a slightly more critical attitude than white males. Nevertheless, the most significant aspect of the sex variable appears to be the professed ignor- ance of women concerning policemens performance.

    In his Los Angeles survey, Gourley found some evidence of an in- verse relationship between occupational status of respondents and favor- able attitudes toward


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