Generic image
Thinkstock

Almost half of Americans hate their police department.

In a new study, a little over 47 percent of Americans gave their police precinct a grade of D or F. The states of Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Virginia and Georgia are among those ranked highest in the number of people reporting negative perceptions of police. 

Advertisement

The results were pulled together from social media by drug treatment and awarness site drugabuse.com. The company found that more than 37 percent of Americans gave their police department an F grade, with the national average being a D. Grades of A came from New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, Kansas and Hawaii. Slightly more than 13 percent of states offered a C grade to police departments, including Texas, despite the fact that three Texas cities—San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth—when looking at data city by city, gave their police department an F grade. The cities of Boston, San Francisco and Chicago were in the middle with C grades. 

The company examined over 766,000 tweets about sentiment toward law enforcement in each state. The state with the most positive perception of police was New Hampshire. The most negative: Arkansas. The city with the most positive perception of police was Columbus, Ohio, while the one with the most negative was, not surprisingly, Ferguson, Mo. Other “failing” city police departments included Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, New York and Denver. Baltimore, a city still reeling from recent unrest, received a D grade.

The reasons for such low scores vary, according to Philip Leaf, a Johns Hopkins University professor whose work revolves around preventing youth violence, the overuse of incarceration, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and violence in communities.

Advertisement

“If you talk to young people in Baltimore, I don’t think their feelings about police have changed at all in the last five to seven years,” says Leaf. “There has been a negative perception of police in many communities for a long time. There just haven’t been conversations with these young people or in the media about it until recently. There hasn’t been an upsurge of disconnect with the police. With cellphones, there has been documentation of things that people have been talking about for a long time. People haven’t been believed, and now it’s hard not to believe it, if you see it on TV.”

According to Leaf, this new media interest, in conjunction with technology that can record incidents, has led to new conversations about police violence and neglected communities. Issues around aggressive policing can have an impact on feelings of value for young people who are continually harassed.

“It literally changes the way their brain functions,” says Leaf. “These things are occurring in communities where lots of things are going on. Kids will think, ‘Have you seen my school? How can I think that people in my community care about me?’”

Since the uprisings in April in Baltimore, Rodney Hill, a prosecutor and former police officer, has been assigned to head up a new department called the Office of Professional Responsibility and Compliance in the Baltimore City Police Department.

Hill says the negative perception of police isn’t as strong as people think it is, particularly in Baltimore. “After the riots, it was amazing how many people came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for your service—people from all different backgrounds,’” he says.

But Hill acknowledges that there are whole communities of people that have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, and not just with good public relations but with real on-the-ground police work. Hill says the foot-patrol police officer was a concept that was dismantled because of the need for a rapid-deployment approach when crimes happened. In police cars, officers were able to get to crimes quicker. On foot patrol, police officers are forced to talk to people and build a rapport, and there’s less of an “us vs. them” mentality.

Advertisement

“People call the police when something bad happens. It’s easy for officers to develop an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” says Hill. Programs like “Officer Friendly” and the Police Athletic League created a space where officers could interact with citizens in a more relaxed setting.

The problem of community relations between police officers and citizens is complicated by the fact that areas that have a negative perception of police most often need police to patrol neighborhoods regularly. 

“It’s not as if this stuff hasn’t been going on all along for decades, but now it’s being captured for the world to see, and the few bad apples being captured on camera are ruining the entire tree of law enforcement,” says Hassan Giordano, 39, and a candidate for Baltimore City Council. “However, those very same people who have a negative opinion of police will also be the same ones calling 911 when they find themselves in an unsafe situation. It’s a catch-22.”