Each member of the society wants a peaceful, crime-free neighborhood. In the desire to obtain such an environment the government commissioned the work of policemen to main peace and order by enforcing the law. However, despite the importance of their role in the community, police personnel continue to earn negative image from the public. It should be noted that the publics’ perception to law enforcement officers play a crucial role in maintaining peace and order. A positive perception will more likely help in meeting such goals. It is therefore important to understand the causes of the negative perceptions against the police. Previous studies that touches this subject suggests that there are several factors that lead to the negative perceptions against the police. These factors are: the level of peace and order in the neighborhood, the unrealistic representation of the police in the media, video recordings of police operations or events that include police personnel, and level of familiarity with police personnel.
In a study conducted by the United States Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), entitled, “Factors that influence the public opinion of the police,” the primary factor that determines whether there will be a positive or negative public image for the police is the level of crime in the neighborhood. According to the findings of the said research, the members of the public living in neighborhood with high crime rate and disorder tend to develop more negative images against the police. They tend to associate the level of disorder and crime with the inability of the police to do their work or even with the corruption of police officers. The study also revealed that people who have had primary experience with police officers usually dislike the latter’s demeanor. People who have had personal experiences with the police usually perceive them to possess negative, unfriendly behaviors. Such experiences cause them to develop negative image against the police.
Interestingly, while there are opinions and studies that argue that race has an effect in the development of police public image, the study conducted by the NIJ revealed, otherwise. In fact, the NIJ study showed that race ethnicity has nothing to do with negative police image. All races have the same propensity to develop such negative image (National Institute of Justice 4).
Nevertheless, this particular finding about the effect of race on police perception was contradicted by the study conducted by Ben Brown and Reed Benedict. Their study involved the review of 100 past studies that touches the subject. Their systematic review revealed that the majority of the studies prove that race is one of the determining factors if police public image. This factor stands in equal footing as the other factors such as neighborhood. Accordingly, the authors explain that Black Americans and other minority groups tend to show more negative perceptions against the police. They also explained that the reason for this is that more Black Americans are arrested by the police using violent means compared to the White Americans. The Black Americans and other minority groups are also less educated compared to the White counterparts that make them reluctant to have formal communications with the police (Brown and Benedict 545 – 546).
Jack R. Greene has presented two causes of the public’s negative image against the police. In his book entitled, “The Encyclopedia of Police Science, Vol. 1,” he showed the use of video recording cameras has actually increased the negative public images of the police. Accordingly, there have been videos of police officers that harass their victim – whether innocent or not. These videos are uploaded to social networking sites where the public can quickly and freely access them. It should be noted that the majority of these videos possess violent content – usually perpetuated by the police officers. Such scenes help in the development of negative perceptions against the police. One of the most recent events that have caused the public’s uproar against police officers was the shooting of a homeless man named “Africa” in Los Angeles near Skid Row. A resident has captured the entire shooting incident and has uploaded it in social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (Gambino). Another recent event is the expulsion of a subway singer by a police officer. The video of altercation was caught on a video and uploaded in YouTube and other social networking sites. The video shows that the police officer was unaware of the law the he needs to implement as singing in subways is legal under US laws (Knafo).
Another factor presented by Greene is the unrealistic representation of the police in mainstream media such as the movies. Movies either portray police as bad entities or people with extra ordinary skills in solving crimes. Both portrayals result to the development of negative image against the police. Accordingly, viewers tend to compare what they see in the cinemas with what they hear and see in the news. They sometimes think that the police in their neighborhood are very inefficient because they do not show the qualities of the police they see in the movies. Viewers who watched films that give negative portrayal against the police tend to believe such portrayals (Greene 777). This causes as proposed by Greene seem to be valid. Consider the arrest of Robert Davis in 2005, which was filmed and then uploaded to different sites in the internet. Leading news channels such as the CBS have also released some pictures of Davis showing how badly he was beaten by the police officers who mistakenly thought the he was drunk. The posts have easily garnered millions of views and negative comments against the police (Pace n.p.).
It appears from the identified factors that the negative public image against the police is reversible. This means that there is a way to develop a positive image of the police in the community. One of these ways is to lower the crime rate and improve the level of order in the community. Another way is to make legislations that will provide a detailed account on how police officers must perform their arrest so that violence associated with arrests can be reduced. Police departments should also have their personnel accountable for the violations that they have done. Lastly, videos showing the good work of police officers can also be uploaded so that public can acknowledge them. Lastly, the movie industry should try hard not to over-represent or misrepresent the police in the movies. They must portray police officers as closest to reality as possible. Lastly, the public has to become more educated to the nature of the police work – that there many instances when violence must be used to apprehend or arrest perpetrators.
In conclusion, it is very important to understand the factors that determine police public image. Knowing the said factors or causes can help determine ways to reverse the negative public image against them. This study revealed that there are four main factors that determine police public image. The nature of the four factors also revealed the negative police public image can be reversed. The reversal needs not only the participation of the police, but also by legislators, the government, the media and the public. In other words the problem with negative police image can be solved through the participation of all the affected stakeholders. In the long run, the society can will realize that true peace and order can only be accomplish with the cooperation between the public and the law enforcers such as the police. It is therefore important that these two groups of people work hand in hand. One way to start this is for each group to ensure the welfare of each other; this can be started by ensuring the each group develops a positive image of the other. This image or perception will facilitate the communication and cooperation between the public and the police.
Brown, Ben and Reed, Benedict. Perceptions of the police Past findings, methodological issues, conceptual issues and policy implications. An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 25.3(2002): 543-580.
Gambino, Lauren. LAPD on fatal shooting: Homeless man 'forcibly grabbed' officer's gun. 10 March 2015. The Guardian. 13 April 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/02/los-angeles-police-shoot-dead-homeless-man-grabbed-gun>.
Greene, Jack R. The Encyclopedia of Police Science, Vol. 1. New York: Taylor and Francis Group. 2007. Print.
Knafo, Saki. It's Legal To Sing In The Subway, But This Subway Singer Got Arrested Anyway. 21 December 2014. Huffington Post. 13 April 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/20/subway-musician-arrest-_n_6017854.html>.
National Institute of Justice. Factors that Affect Public Opinion of the Police. Washington: NJCRS. 2014. Print.
Pace, Gina. New Orleans Man: I Wasn’t Drunk. 9 October 2005. CBSNEWS. 12 April 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-orleans-man-i-wasnt-drunk/>.
Notes for Note Cards
1.) Police positive public image is important
- it helps resolve crime
- it allows people to communicate or report crimes to police openly
- it encourages people to do good
2.) There are many reasons why there is negative public image of police
- level of crime in the neighborhood
- police misdemeanor
- wrong portrayal of police in the media
- video footages of violent police operations
3.) Level of crime in the neighborhood
- The residents of a neighborhood with high level of crime ate are more likely to develop negative police image and vice versa.
4.) Police misdemeanor
- Police misdemeanor can lead to negative police image. Some people have had personal encounters with police and they did not like the latter’s demeanor. Level of personal experience with police is therefore a factor in developing negative police image.
5.) Wrong portrayal of police in the media
- Some movies attribute supernatural abilities to police. People compare what they see in the movies to the real police and get upset because the police in the movies are better.
- Some movies portray police officers as villains and the public make a generalization in real life about police officers based form such movies.
6.) Video footages of violent police operations
- Violent arrests and police brutality are caught on video. These videos are uploaded in the internet and people watch them. People get convinced that police personnel are bad, and violent people.
7.) Examples of video footages
- A homeless man is shot by police officers upon altercations. A local resident captures the shooting in a video and uploaded it in the internet. Many people were angered by the event. Police officers criticized.
8.) Examples of video footages
- A subway singer was forced by a police officer to leave the subway. The singer argued about the law that he is allowed by the law to sing in the subway. The police are not convinced and still forced the singer to leave. The singer was correct about the law. The people in the subway watching the event were against the police officer.
9.) The negative image of police in public is reversible
- There are ways to reverse negative police image in the public, but it will require time and effort both from the government and the police officers.
10.) Concluding part: there is a need to address the issue of negative police image
- The following institutions or people should be involved:
Legislators and politicians
The police officers
11.) Legislators and politicians
- Arrest procedures should be clear
- The limits of police authority must be establish
- There should be a check and balance of power among law enforcers
12.) The Police Officers
- Must possess correct demeanor
- Must undergo sufficient training
- Must be well versed with the rules that they will enforce
- Must be careful which to believe in the media
- Should be educated about the nature of police work
- Must be careful with judging based from what they see on videos uploaded in networking sites
14.) All should be involved in improving the police image. Everyone is affected by the quality of law in order in the society. There must be a sense of trust between police and civilians. Legislators must review and amend rules.
15.) Conclusion: the creation of negative police image is caused by diverse factors. Fortunately, there are also diverse ways in reversing negative police image. The process for reversing negative image must be participated by all stakeholders.
There is a need to establish and maintain peace in order in the community to improve the quality of life. This task is primarily given to the police. Nevertheless, numerous instances of police brutality and misdemeanor create a negative police image among the members of the public.
Possible causes of negative police image.
There are different possible causes in the development of negative police image among the members of the public. Some studies show that people with personal interaction with police develop negative police image. The reason is the misdemeanor of police officers during the personal interaction. Other studies suggest that the cause of negative body image is the level of crime and disorder in the community. If the community has high crime rate and is highly disorder, then the people there tend to develop negative police image. Another cause is the mass media. The movies usually portray good police officers to have beyond normal abilities in solving crimes. Some movies show that police officers are evil like they are the secret head of syndicates and gangs and they occasionally kill people. Another reason is the continuous uploading of videos showing the abuse in power of the police. Also, the level of education of people and race are also some factors, although there is insufficient evidence to prove this point.
Ways of improving police image.
Fortunately the negative police image can be replaced by positive police image. It may require time and effort for this reversal. The media should start a realistic portrayal of the police. The legislators must review the rules in arresting and diffusing criminals or suspected criminals. There must be a rule on the extent of violence that police officers can inflict on suspected criminals. The public should strive hard to understand the nature of the police work.
There is a necessity to determine the reasons or causes of negative police image so the issue can be addressed. There studies that show these reasons and there are also studies that show the possible solutions. Everyone in the society should participate in this endeavour.