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 law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and the communities they serve, we conducted a Transparency and Trust Report in April 2021, then published an updated report for 2022. This 2022 report represents data that we collected from 3k people across the US and insights from current and former law enforcement leaders.
The report reveals 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
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 2022
American communities need more education on policing
Perceptions about policing remain complex and nuanced. Across our survey, we discovered that about 25% of respondents either didn’t want to express their opinions on policing and technologies for law enforcement or they didn’t have an opinion at all. In order to be able to form and feel confident in their opinions, the public needs more information from quality sources.
Opinions on racism and bias in policing remain strong
Our survey shows that communities have growing confidence in their local police’s efforts to eliminate racial bias, but there is still plenty of work to be done. At 64%, most Americans believe that racial bias is still prevalent in policing, and 55% share that they have not been made aware of their local police’s plans to address racial bias and systemic racism. With that being said, greater transparency and clearer communication have made 25% of respondents more trusting of local police.
Most people want to support the police
Despite divisive attitudes on display in traditional media and social media, there’s a large amount of empathy in regard to policing. Over half of Americans (62%) believe that policing has become politically polarized, 70% agree that it has become more difficult to be a police officer in the last five years, and 61% believe that it is possible to be anti-racist and still support the police.
84% say police should focus on responding to violent crime matters
An overwhelming majority of Americans want police to prioritize their time and budgets by responding to violent crimes. Only 42% of respondents want police to spend time performing administrative tasks (such as reviewing reports), and 24% for documenting the perceived race of individuals at traffic stops. Fortunately, AI technology offers solutions for both of these pain points.
New technologies for police can improve transparency and trust
Many Americans say that a lack of transparency has hurt their perception of law enforcement and exacerbated misunderstandings regarding police protocols and operations. Fortunately, there are new AI technologies that can help law enforcement with more efficient evidence processing, faster responses to different types of calls, and more objectivity. However, the public needs a clearer understanding of these tools in order to better trust the technology and the police’s use of the technology.
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 transparency and trust 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 hours 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.