Poll Shows Public Wants to Know Law Enforcement Has Accountability

October 28, 2015

A new nationwide survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found a strong majority think police should be required to wear body cameras, and that the U.S. Department of Justice should continue to investigate when controversial incidents have occur involving local police forces in their communities. Poll respondents in Florida concurred.

The release of the survey happened to coincide with the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago this week.

The poll collected responses from 1,005 adults nationally. It was conducted online October 17-22, 2015. Two parts of the broad poll dealt specifically with confidence in law enforcement and related public safety issues, and opinions in the wake of mass shootings. The margin of error for responses is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The polling institute also gathered opinions from 521 Floridians on the same subjects, and in those instances, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Patterns were often alike between national and Florida responses.

Public sentiment proved strongest on matters of accountability. This was revealed in a section of questions that asked poll respondents to read several statements and to indicate whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, or were unsure.

Statements National Strongly & Somewhat Agree Florida Strongly & Somewhat Agree
Police officers should be required to wear body cameras to better assist in reviewing difficult incidents 86.8 percent 88.1 percent
The U.S. Department of Justice should continue to open investigations of community police departments following controversial incidents 79.0 percent 77.3 percent

“People think that it is important that the police be held accountable for their actions. That is evident from the strong support for body cameras (nearly 87 percent) and that the U.S. Justice Department continue investigating controversial incidents (79 percent),” said Dr. Eloy Nuñez, associate professor in the Department of Public Safety Administration at Saint Leo University.

A desire for accountability was not equated with disapproval or dislike of law enforcement in the survey. In another section, where people were asked to rate the quality and professionalism of their local departments and their local officers on a numerical scale, more respondents gave departments good scores (of 1 to 4) than gave them poor scores (of 7 to 10). That was true nationally and in Florida.

Ratings National Good 1-4 National Poor 7-10 Florida Good 1-4 Florida Poor 7-10
My community police department 54.3 22.2 57.4 18.7
The police officers in my community 53.6 22.4 57.2 19.4

“In general, people like their police, and even sympathize with police officers, but they want to make sure that they are also responsible for their actions,” commented Dr. Nuñez.

Further, Dr. Nuñez reflected: “People like the police when then need them, but they don’t like them when they get a ticket or get arrested, or when they’re too slow to respond to arrive at a call for service. There’s an acceptance that police are needed to maintain order in our society, but no one likes to be on the receiving end of punitive action. As a result, there will always be a duality about the public’s perception of the police.”

Additional survey responses on the topics of gun ownership and use of firearms, attitudes towards gun controls, opinions on mass shootings vis-à-vis gun ownership, and mental health services posed in the context of possibly helping to reduce the severity and numbers of mass shootings, are also covered.

More detailed responses and relations with police are available from the poll report, posted at http://polls.saintleo.edu.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.