New study: Overwhelming majority of police now fear for their own safety

New study: Overwhelming majority of police now fear for their own safety
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Being in law enforcement has always been a tough job, but, according to a newly released study from the Pew Research Center, it has become much more difficult — and less safe — since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the research, 86 percent of police officers see their work as harder today due to the high-profile police conflicts with the black community. Perhaps even more alarming, a staggering 93 percent said their colleagues expressed concerns about their own personal safety — a number that was recorded before the separate ambush attacks in Dallas on July 7 and in Baton Rouge on July 17 that left a total of eight officers dead.

All of this is a result of the so-called “Ferguson effect,” which purports that increased scrutiny on police officers has directly impacted law enforcement work.

In addition to fears about safety, police are now less likely to use force, even when it is appropriate. Three-quarters — or 76 percent — of officers “are reluctant to use force when it is appropriate,” Pew concluded.

The survey also found that interactions between police and blacks have become “more tense,” according to 75 percent of respondents, while 72 percent said they and their colleagues are now less likely to stop and question people who seem suspicious.

However, black and white police officers have differing views on the Black Lives Matter movement:

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 percent) but seven-in-ten of their black colleagues (69 percent) 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.

“White officers and black officers have very different views about where we are as a country in terms of achieving equal rights,” Kim Parker, director of social trends research for the Pew Research Center, told the Associated Press.

For the most part, police officers in general are skeptical about the motives of the demonstrators who have protested following deadly police-involved encounters. According to the study, 92 percent of respondents believe that “long-standing bias against the police is a great deal (68 percent) or some (24 percent) of the motivation behind these demonstrations.”

As a result of the widespread criticism law enforcement officers have been subjected to in recent years, many are disinclined to act over fear of being vilified by the press and public opinion.

“Officers are concerned about being the next viral video and so that influences what they do and how they do it and how they think about it,” Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told the AP, adding that he doesn’t think most officers are turning a blind eye, “but I still have to believe it may be in a marginal-call situation where there’s a reasonable suspicion on the bubble … that those are the ones they pass up.”

Pew questioned at least 8,000 officers from departments around the country with at least 100 officers between May 19 and Aug. 14 of last year.

91 Comments