One of the polls I keep an eye on is Gallup’s annual survey of confidence in American institutions. It’s not a pretty picture. In this year’s survey only three institutions enjoy the confidence of over 50% of Americans: the military (72%), small businesses (67%), and the police (52%). It goes downhill from there with Congress bringing up the rear at 8%.
Those saying they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in police only dropped 1 point from last year’s survey (53% – 52%). That’s not too shabby given tragic incidents in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other places where Officer’s actions were called into question.
I’m a bit surprised by the fairly strong support given to the police. When an Officer encounters a member of the public sometimes things go wrong, and sometimes people die. Public outrage and scrutiny is warranted when police shoot and kill someone. Allowing an agent of the government to use deadly force is an awesome power. The Officers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing take that power seriously, spending hours each month training and fine tuning their skills in an effort to avoid the need to use deadly force.
Looking back over time, confidence in police reached it’s highest point in 2004 when 64% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in police. The average since Gallup added police to their list of public institutions is 57%. The current level of confidence is below average, which should cause concern, but certainly not enough to start talking about federalizing local police forces.
The closer the government is to the people, the better in my opinion. This applies to police forces as well.