Police and the policed: They live in two different realities.
That's the take away from a hugely important report released last week by Pew Research Center. The survey of 8,000 officers in cities throughout the country offers a telling, yet troubling glimpse into the minds of rank-and-file cops in the age of Black Lives Matter. It also suggests racial divisions — festering throughout the country — also are deeply seated within police ranks, too.
Take, for example, perceptions of deadly police encounters with young black men. Just 39 percent of the population think these encounters are merely isolated instances and reject the argument that they're symptomatic of systematic racial bias. Seventy-two percent of officers included in the survey hold that opinion. Yet a solid majority of black officers agree with public perception that the highly publicized deaths are, in fact, rooted in systemic prejudice.
That internal racial division, too, carries through with police perceptions of the protests sparked by the killings. Only 27 percent of respondents believe Black Lives Matter protesters have a genuine interest in holding officers accountable. But 69 percent of black cops think accountability is the main thrust for BLM protesters. At a global scale, 92 percent of officers surveyed believe that the U.S. has made ample changes to address racial inequality. That number dwindles to just 29 percent among black officers alone.
Only about a quarter of officers agreed that their department does an adequate job rooting out bad cops. Yet a massive majority support internal use-of-force guidelines. And a whopping 86 percent say the public doesn't appreciate what they do.
Police are also substantially less likely to support gun control efforts, especially bans on assault-style weapons, than Americans at large.
Overall, Pew's survey paints of a picture of a nation full of cops who feel misunderstood and isolated. But it also includes hints of a fraternity that rejects the concerns of the very civilians who pay them. That's dangerous.
We've said it before: Police can be respected while also scrutinized. It's a red herring to argue that expectations of transparency and accountability are, somehow, out of whack with general appreciation.
Police are, after all, public employees who wield substantial power. Cops have long been the sharp edge of the spear when government targeted certain groups. Civilian oversight is the only barrier against abuse and the bulwark of mutual trust.
Yet, time after time, police unions howl at even the most justified criticism. They rally against right-minded reforms. And they do it in the face of mounting evidence of a broken system. Just last week, the U.S. Justice Department issued its damning report of Chicago Police Department. The scathing assessment detailed widespread abuse of power and use-of-force practices that, on the ground, targeted racial minorities.
The vast majority of rank-and-file officers deserve utmost respect. They do a tough, necessary job. But it's also true that cops are most effective when they have the full confidence of their communities. And that's only possible if police and residents alike share a common interest.
At present, the police and the policed aren't even experiencing the same universe.