Results from our recent survey with WNYC suggest that the communities that may need police the most are also likely to say their relations with the police are most problematic.
The New York metro area is no stranger to controversy on policing. New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. Its broken windows policy drew sharp criticism and protests following the death of Eric Garner.
Results from our recent survey with WNYC suggest that the communities that may need police the most are also most likely to say their relations with the police are problematic.
Residents who live in New York City are far more likely to say crime is a serious problem where they live, compared to residents living in the surrounding and farther out suburbs. Likewise, black and Hispanic residents throughout the entire New York metro area are more likely than white residents to say crime is a serious problem in their cities and towns.
These same groups—black, Hispanic and New York City residents—are also far more likely to say that police-community relations are a serious problem where they live. Two-thirds of residents living in New York City say police-community relations are a serious problem where they live, compared to less than a quarter of residents outside of New York City. Black and Hispanic residents are twice as likely as white residents to say police-community relations are a serious problem where they live.
Focus group participants provided a deeper sense of what people worry about when it comes to policing:
“I don’t know how I can be involved, but my main issue is the police brutality and just conflict. I think that the police, they need to be trained more in, I don’t know, sensitivity? I don’t know what the solution is…to meet, to talk, this fear that people have for the police…and fear and respect are two different things. Most people are afraid of the police. I think they should find a way to eliminate that somehow.”
“The police should be able to listen to the community. If you want to make it work, you have to listen, and no one is listening to each other. Everybody’s just killing, and it’s just stupid. It’s stupid. Somebody has to be reasonable. Somebody has to be the rational party and be able to get on both sides.”
Of course, we heard stories of positive interactions with police as well. One woman told us about a sergeant who called her to assure her about the safety of a neighborhood she was moving into. Another spoke about family members who served on the police force and acknowledged, “it’s a tough job.”
Still, our results suggest that the very people who most need law enforcement to be a positive force in their communities are having the most strained relations with the police.
The results also beg the question: should officials and the police be considering how their policing policies may be affecting their relationships with the neighborhoods they’re charged to protect and serve? How can officials, the police, and residents better work together to rebuild strained relationships while also ensuring residents feel safe from crime?