About half of the officers surveyed (51%) say their work nearly always (10%) or often (41%) makes them feel frustrated.
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.
Quotes from Pew’s new research:
About one-in-five police officers nationally (21%) say their job nearly always or often makes them feel angry and frustrated – feelings that are linked to more negative views toward the public.
Frustration is more prevalent than anger among today’s police officers. About half of the officers surveyed (51%) say their work nearly always (10%) or often (41%) makes them feel frustrated, while 22% say they nearly always (3%) or often (19%) feel angry. When these two measures are combined, a total of 21% of officers say they nearly always or often feel angry and frustrated.
Frustrated Cops are Violent Cops?
But the folks from Pew go further; they suggest that angry cops are violent cops:
The survey finds that officers who frequently feel angry and frustrated by their job are twice as likely as all other police to say officers have reason to distrust most people (46% vs. 23%). They are more likely than their colleagues to agree that some people can only be brought to reason the hard, physical way (56% vs. 41%) and to say they have become more callous toward people since taking this job (77% vs. 50%).
Angry and frustrated officers also are more likely to have physically struggled or fought with a suspect in the past month (44% vs. 30%) or to have been verbally abused by a citizen (79% vs. 64%).
I have no reason to dispute Pew’s methodology, data or their interpretation beyond adding some perspective.
First is the ability of Pew to accurately gauge the feelings of police officers, who are remarkably stoic. If you write about policing in America, you begin to understand the enduring nature of cops and their unwillingness to publically admit that their job is impacted by the turmoil of the past two years.
It’s possible that Pew’s data is an undercount of police frustration. Groups falling into the category of “hard to count,” (i.e., sex assault victims, youth, minorities) traditionally produce undercounts.
In my conversations with officers over the last two years, I haven’t spoken with many (any?) expressing lots of optimism regarding the state of American policing.
The coloration equals causation argument as to use of force, while possible, strikes me as disingenuous (the Pew research provides some clarification as to this observation). It’s my experience that use of force is driven by circumstances, not predisposition.
Every encounter put’s the officer’s life in danger, and every cop wants to minimize force simply because it’s in her interest. Cops who consistently use force drag other officers into the same confrontation, which endangers all.
When I was a cop responding to an officer in need, we didn’t hesitate to critique actions and suggest alternative methods “if” we believed that the situation could have been better handled. It was a matter of self-preservation.
The final concern is cops being far less aggressive and the resulting increase in violent crime (not addressed by Pew). Inaction and growth in violent crime seem connected.
How Cops Feel
Here’s a list of recent articles from Crime in America.Net about policing in America that produced lots of comments on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms:
There are some in law enforcement who are convinced that there is a literal, “war on cops.” The rest believe that there’s a culture war. The newspaper articles on cops leaving or the difficulty of hiring new recruits are many; it’s the same for correctional officers.
I’m personally aware of family members telling their loved one’s to get out of policing, and to get out now. They are also being told to stop being proactive as an act of self-preservation. Many others are contemplating retirement, and jurisdictions are considering subsidies to keep them on the job.
The implied, “angry cops are violent cops” is a slap at officers, and skews the discussion as to the “culture” of policing. There are many who will take this data and make a case for the “something’s wrong with cops” argument; a belief that officers are inherently flawed human beings working in inherently flawed agencies.
Those of us who have been police officers or existed in a law enforcement culture know that the vast majority are respectable, dedicated, even-tempered people who are just trying to do a demanding job with as little difficulty as possible.
But the public is justifiably questioning the legitimacy of police shootings and use of force. There ARE bad cops (the same as bad reporters, stockbrokers and any other profession) and I dislike them intensely. Because of the uniqueness of policing, there is a protective culture of circling the wagons when something bad happens. We within the justice system need to meet these problems head-on.
But Over-Criticism Has Consequences
Most cops see themselves as protectors. Take away that role, and many don’t see a reason to continue in policing.
Violent crime is growing considerably in many (not all) cities throughout the country, and violent crime is up in 2015 and the first six months of 2016. Many attribute this to cops holding back (not being proactive).
Thus there are implications for the public’s view of law enforcement and everyone’s personal safety.
Angry cops? I believe we have a problem with the public perception, and it’s leaving its mark on society. Police officers traditionally have good public approval ratings (yes, it varies by demographics).
I believe that every family is having a conversation with their loved one’s as to staying on a job where they are not supported or appreciated by the larger society, or segments of society.
I also believe (through direct and social media conversations with hundreds of cops from around the country) that the majority are concerned, frustrated or are contemplating leaving law enforcement.
Pew should be congratulated for their effort to document the perception of police officers thus giving them a collective voice, but let additional research follow.
As I ask in one of my previous articles, “what happens when we run out of cops?” Public criticism is necessary, right and justifiable when circumstances warrant. Just be careful; let’s not convince good people to leave policing.
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