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Michigan survey shows "good news, bad news" with statewide police relations

Feb 22, 2016

Credit User: West Midlands Police / Wikimedia Commons

The August 2014 shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri triggered long nights of civil unrest. Subsequent police shootings across Michigan and around the nation fueled the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as ratcheting up tensions between police departments and the citizens they are supposed to protect.

In the wake of those tensions, the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan set out to explore what local leaders around the state thought of the relations between their communities and police departments.

CLOSUP administrator Tom Ivacko joined Stateside to talk about the results of the survey which he said, like a lot of public policy surveys, was a mix of good news and bad news.

Let's start with the good news. The survey, which got responses from 76% of local jurisdictions, showed local leaders responded with overwhelmingly positive marks for the relationship between police officers and the citizens in their area.

Among the questions, the survey asked if police officers treat everyone professionally, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. Also, it asked how strict officers are when enforcing the law, and whether there is a level of trust between law enforcement and the citizens. Overall, according to Ivacko, it painted a positive picture. According to the results, 88% said the relationship between the public and the police is "good or excellent.”

However, when the data are analyzed more closely, there are more problems reported in bigger cities.

Local leaders in bigger cities were asked if they believe there could be a “major incident of civil unrest” in their community anytime soon, tied specifically to police use of force.

“Across the state, again, overwhelmingly most are not concerned – 89% are not very concerned,” said Ivacko. “But in our biggest cities in Michigan, 64%, almost two-thirds, are concerned that something like this could happen in their community.”

What are local communities doing to combat the tensions between the police and its citizenry? Following the death of Michael Brown, President Barack Obama created a 21st Century Policing task force in an effort to improve policing and relationships within communities.

“A number of [the task force’s] recommendations are under way, within Michigan, especially in the biggest cities,” said Ivacko. “The most common thing we found is training of police officers in de-escalation techniques and ... and cultural understanding and bias awareness of their own outlooks. 87% of Michigan’s cities are doing that kind of training for their officers, so that’s pretty encouraging.”

Listen to the full interview with Tom Ivacko below to hear more details about the results of the survey.