In the last couple of years, important conversations regarding the topic of policing have risen on a national level. And while ideas from news outlets, op-eds, and social media seem to be front and center, it’s difficult to cut through the noise to discover the public’s true feelings about law enforcement agencies.

To learn more about the relationship between LEAs and the communities they serve, we conducted a Trust and Transparency Report in April 2021. This report used data that we collected from 3k people across the US and insights from current and former law enforcement leaders.

The report revealed four themes:

  • Perceptions of policing are nuanced and complex
  • Improving transparency is good for everyone
  • Communities have strong opinions about policing
  • Technology will accelerate transparency efforts

Alongside these themes came encouraging results: during a time when the public is demanding greater transparency, we now have the technology to not only make it feasible but to make it scalable as well. 

About the report

As stated before, we asked 3k Americans wide-ranging questions to discover their trust in, beliefs toward, attitudes about, and expectations for local and national policing.

We looked deeply at the relationship between LEAs and their communities, as well as generalized opinions on policing at a national level. After sourcing this data, we asked current and former leaders of LEAs to examine the data and discuss strategies and opportunities of how to bring more transparency into policing.

During this open dialogue with LEA leaders, we were able to uncover opportunities for LEAs to improve communications with communities and identify any issues or roadblocks that kept them from making these improvements in the past.

We’ve found that public misconceptions about policing sometimes stem from the public’s misunderstandings about operations and protocols, the public’s lack of access to records, or how LEAs manage and retain records. Fortunately, this presents the opportunity for LEAs to share more information and transparency with the communities they serve.

Key Findings of 2021

4 out of 5 Americans feel safe in their communities

Perceptions about policing are complex and nuanced. Most Americans feel safe in their own communities, and 3 out of 4 credit the police for that security, but we still see divisiveness across the country. In the past five years, nearly as many people report a better opinion of police as those who say their opinion worsened. It is interesting to note, however, that only 52% of people have formed their opinions about the police based on their own direct interactions with them.

Over 75% of people feel positively toward their local police departments

Despite divisive attitudes on display in traditional media and social media (which 38% of respondents say pressure them to have certain opinions), there’s a surprising amount of agreement in regards to policing. Over half of Americans have either very positive or somewhat positive sentiments toward local and national policing, whereas less than 10% have negative feelings toward their local police and less than 20% feel negatively about policing in the US in general.

42% credit their perception of LEAs to a lack of transparency

Nearly half of the nation says that a lack of transparency has hurt their perception of law enforcement and exacerbated misunderstandings regarding police protocols and operations. However, the public has mixed opinions on LEA efforts; 44% of people approve of LEAs increasing funding for anti-racism or unconscious bias training, but in order to measure for potential bias, LEAs would need to lawfully collect demographic and perceived race data, which only 22% approve. This could change in the future, as better tools and strategies could improve the relationship between LEAs and the public.

84% say police should focus on responding to violent crime matters

Despite a wave of discussion about defunding the police close to the time that this survey was conducted, 37% of respondents think of their local LEA spending as adequate, 18% think it’s too high, and 14% think it’s not enough. However, communities have strong opinions on the role police should play—84% want police to focus on violent crime responses, and less than 40% want police to respond to medical and mental health calls.

61% trust LEAs to use technology in aiding with suspect identification

The majority of Americans seem receptive when it comes to police utilizing technology that can improve public safety, including facial recognition tech that can help identify suspects more quickly and accurately and body-worn cameras. The public expects quick releases of footage, and they may be unaware of the nuances and legal issues (such as personal identification data) that can delay this process, however, technology can help improve this workflow.

How can technology help increase transparency?

In this survey, the public gave LEAs high marks for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance, which offers citizens a way to access case records, reports, emails, and other materials. While this positively impacts trust and transparency between LEAs and communities, this can create a heavy workload for LEAs. Maintaining, redacting, and distributing that data is a massive undertaking, and citizens may not realize how many manhours it takes for agencies to comply with FOIA requests within the necessary timeframe.

Technology plays an important role in how policing has evolved in the US. Traditionally, LEAs haven’t been associated with cutting-edge tech, but better digital and technological strategies could significantly help increase transparency and trust.

Artificial intelligence, in particular, could help LEAs in a number of ways, including suspect identification, data processing, and much more. Still, there are misconceptions about LEAs using AI—even though the situations the public is most worried about are exaggerated, hyperbolic use cases from sci-fi movies or other pop culture references.

It’s our hope that this blog series can help inform LEAs and the public about how the right AI technology can help LEAs optimize their workflows so they can spend less time on small, tedious tasks and more time helping and connecting with their communities.