Cops’ views

In response to Dan’s post today about police reform, commenter Joshua wrote:

I wonder if Jonathan Haidt and Tucker Carlson will start campaigning for greater viewpoint diversity in the police unions?

In response I wrote that I think there is viewpoint diversity among police officers already. How much viewpoint diversity is there in police union leadership, that’s another question. Also I wonder if police officers with views that are not in the majority are afraid to speak out.

But then this got me wondering . . . what are the social and political attitudes of police officers in this country? There must be some surveys, right?

5 seconds on Google led me to this 2017 article by Rich Morin, Kim Parker, Renee Stepler, and Andrew Mercer from Pew Research:

Police and the public hold sharply different views about key aspects of policing as well as on some major policy issues facing the country. For example, most police say more officers are needed to adequately patrol their communities, while the majority of the public doesn’t think more officers are necessary. A majority of officers oppose a ban on assault-style weapons, while a majority of the public favors a ban on these weapons.

At the same time, there are areas of broad agreement between officers and the public. Majorities of the police and public favor the use of body cameras by officers to record interactions with the public. Large majorities of police and the public also support easing some legal restrictions on marijuana, though the public is more likely than officers to support the legalization of marijuana for both personal and medical use (49% vs. 32%).

These contrasting views and striking similarities emerge from two surveys, one of 7,917 sworn police officers conducted online May 19-Aug. 14, 2016, and the other a nationally representative survey of 4,538 adults conducted Aug. 16-Sept. 12, 2016, by mail and online. The surveys included a number of identically worded questions, which allowed for direct comparisons . . .

Looking at the data summaries, you can see clear differences between police and the general population. Also, though, most of the percentages are between 1/3 and 2/3, which tells us that for most of these positions, there is a substantial minority taking the opposite view.

One thing this survey does not address is diversity of views within police union leadership. Also there’s a difference between an attitude you can hold personally and express in an anonymous survey response, and a public stance. There are group dynamics here, and also politics.

For example, from that story about the two police officers in Buffalo who were charged for assault after pushing an elderly protester to the ground:

The two officers were suspended without pay, a move that incited outrage from the rank and file. The president of the officers’ union, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News that the city’s actions led all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team to quit the unit.

Mayor Byron Brown said on MSNBC on Friday that the union had threatened officers in the unit that they would no longer be supported by the organization if they did not agree to resign. . . .

The fury only intensified when the Police Department first claimed that Mr. Gugino “tripped and fell,” a description at direct odds with the video. . . .

I doubt that an overwhelming majority of Buffalo police officers think it’s cool to push someone to the ground like that. But it has become an us-versus-them thing, at least for now.

Public opinion in general, and the views of cops in particular, are relevant to this discussion, but I think it’s best to think of them as a kind of baseline, a background environment within which the drama plays out. As I wrote earlier, perhaps what is needed is not just diversity of opinion within the police force but also conditions under those diverse opinions can be expressed.