Meredith Poll Explores Perceptions of Law Enforcement

“Women may be more likely to listen, to be compassionate, and to be more flexible.” – Professor Lori Brown

The Fall 2016 Meredith College Poll asked North Carolinians about their perceptions of law enforcement officers.

A large majority of North Carolinians (69%) have great respect for law enforcement officers in the state, with only 4% of its citizens stating that they have very little respect for officers. Among demographic groups, whites have higher respect for police officers (74.9%) than do nonwhites (62.6%). Republicans have significantly higher levels of respect for those in law enforcement (81%) than do Democrats (63%) or unaffiliated citizens (64%).

The most striking difference in respect for law enforcement, however, is related to age, with young people possessing decidedly less respect for law enforcement officers than their older counterparts. Those in the youngest age category (19-29) had about half as much respect for police officers as those in the oldest age category (76+).

In terms of police officers themselves, more than three-quarters of North Carolinians believe that men and women officers are equally capable, with only 16% stating that male officers were more capable and 3% stating that female officers were superior. Also, when asked about whether men or women made better police chiefs, more than two-thirds of North Carolinians (68%) felt there were no differences between men and women in law enforcement leadership. Twenty-one percent felt that men made better police chiefs and 5% perceived that women made better police chiefs.

In terms of qualities associated with police officers, most North Carolinians believe that men and women police officers equally possess compassion and a sense of ethics, as well as possessing the skills to protect the public.

Some of the negative traits often associated with police officers, such as using excessive force or exceeding their authority, are where many North Carolinians favor women police officers over men. Only 3% of citizens consider women more likely to use excessive force, while 59% consider men more likely to do so. Similarly, 46% of North Carolinians state that men are more likely to exceed their authority, while only 6% consider women more likely to do so.

Professor of Sociology Lori Brown believes some of these perceptions are caused by gender stereotypes.

“Many people may feel that it is beneficial to have a woman officer to help if there is a problem, if you are a victim, or if someone needs to deal with teens or women in trouble because women may be more likely to listen, to be compassionate, and to be more flexible,” Brown said. “However, when it comes to being in charge of all those men and women, making tough decisions about policing, sadly some people still see men as leaders. I hope these stereotyped ideas will change as more women move into leadership in all levels of law enforcement and in the rest of the work world.”

About The Meredith College Poll

The Meredith College Poll uses a stratified random sample of households with telephones and wireless (cell) telephone numbers. The survey was conducted using a livecaller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 487 registered voters of North Carolina between September 18-22, 2016. Meredith College students administer the survey as part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
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