MADISON (WKOW) — For the 10th year in a row, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association released a survey that gives the public's perspective of law enforcement.
Jim Palmer, the executive director of WPPA, said this year's survey is the most "comprehensive and illustrative" yet, taking into account over 1,000 responses from Wisconsin residents.
"As our world becomes more complicated and dynamic, this exploration helps facilitate a meaningful discourse that is informed by both public sentiment and certifiable facts," Palmer said in the report's introduction.
Survey results are broken down into eight categories and touch on public support for law enforcement, community safety concerns, body cameras, school resource officers and more. 27 News breaks down key segments of each section below.
The Community Assessment of the survey asks respondents to rank their community from "Excellent" to "Poor." A majority of white and minority respondents answered "good" (55% and 37%, respectively).
In addition to ranking their community, survey takers were also asked about priorities. For the 10th year in a row, keeping communities safe from crime is the top priority for Wisconsinites, with 70% calling it a high priority.
Despite considering their communities as "good," there is a concern for community safety. About a third of white and minority residents feel that their community is less safe when compared to five years ago.
In this section of the survey, respondents were asked to rank nine community problems from "extreme problem" to "not at all a problem."
Community members found drug addiction to be the most extreme issue (32%), followed by poverty (24%) and crime (23%).
In further breaking down responses to drug addiction, 53% of minorities found it an extreme problem in comparison to 28% of white people. Women were also more likely to consider it an extreme issue than men (37% to 25%).
Nearly half of those in communities with more than 150,000 people considered it an extreme problem, too.
Local Police Force Ratings
This section considers three questions about local policing, and the responses are largely positive.
When it comes to local police "handling its job," 77% of Wisconsinites approve of what authorities are doing.
The majority of white and minority people say they have "a great deal" of respect for police within their community (64% and 42%, respectively) and think officers spend "about the right amount of time policing neighborhoods" (65% and 52%, respectively).
Statements About Policing
Survey takers were asked several "agree or disagree" questions on police, and responses again came back mostly positive.
91% of residents believe a well-trained police force helps make communities safer to live, and 80% agree that a well-funded force improves quality of life in a community.
But, despite a majority of responders saying that they respect police, unrest over the last year has had an impact. 73% say respect for officers has decreased over the last year, and 45% say protests against police made their community feel less safe.
Additionally, 51% also say the social unrest due to police actions was unjustified, with 36% believing it was justified.
Where Wisconsinites don't see their community positively is in the realm of crime and unrest. A majority of the public believes that violent crime has increased, which WPPA states is consistent with crime reporting data.
School Resource Officers
Wisconsin residents think highly of police officers within schools, with 63% of people saying they think an officer within public school would increase safety.
Those surveyed felt having an officer in school would reduce school shootings (61%), not criminalize typical student behavior (54%) or impact the learning environment for minority students (59%).
Racial Justice and Budgets
Wisconsinites reaffirm in this section a negative perspective toward protests, with 51% thinking protests have hurt efforts to increase racial justice.
And again, they're supportive of their local police, with 53% opposed to reducing their local police department's budget. At the same time, they support increasing spending for social programs (67%) and increasing local taxes for specially-trained mental health officers (64%).
Race and Police Violence
There are some disparities between white and minority responders when it comes to views on racism and policing.
For all three of the questions WPPA asks, roughly twice as many minority respondents feel that racism and police violence are major or extreme issues compared to what white respondents said.
These questions were:
- How much of a problem do you feel racism is in our society?
- How serious of a problem is police violence against Blacks or African Americans in Wisconsin?
- How serious of a problem is police violence against the public in Wisconsin?
Additionally, 62% of minority respondents and 35% of white respondents believe that deaths of African Americans and other minorities by police officers is a sign of a broader problem, compared to isolated incidents.
Perceptions and Realities
This section fact checks public opinion with fact on topics like fatal shootings at the hands of police, the race of those shot by police and the cause of line of duty deaths.
The public's perception of fatal shootings was close to accurate, with 60% saying that they believed individual's fatally shot by police were armed; WPPA states 100% of those fatally shot were armed.
But, perception was incorrect on what race the majority of people shot by police officers are. A majority thought most of the people shot are part of a minority group. WPPA states that 27% of those shot by police are non-white.
Wisconsinites understood gun violence to be the leading cause of line of duty deaths, but in reality it is COVID-19.
Policy and Reforms
Body cameras remain a priority to Wisconsinites, with 87% believing that officers should be required to wear body cameras is a priority to some degree. They're also in favor of increasing local taxes to pay for those body cameras (61%).