By Michael Hill
The Pew Research Center surveyed nearly 8,000 police officers and sheriffs’ deputies last year from mid-May to mid-August, in the weeks and days before and after a uniform seemed to make them a target in America. The survey results show law enforcers see their jobs as more difficult and more dangerous now than in previous years.
Pew says recent “… high-profile fatal encounters between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs riskier, aggravated tensions between police and blacks and left many officers reluctant to fully carry out some of their duties” in what’s called the Ferguson effect.
The Pew survey found 86 percent say high profile incidents between police and blacks have made their jobs harder, 93 percent of officers are more concerned about their safety, 76 percent of officers are reluctant to use force when appropriate, 75 percent say interactions between police and blacks have become more intense and 72 percent say they’re less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious.
Some advocates for reform say that’s actually good, but police say otherwise.
The Pew survey revealed a gap in perception between black and white officers that’s as wide as the Grand Canyon: 92 percent of white officers say “Our country has made changes needed to give blacks equal rights with whites.” Only 29 percent of black officers agree.
Last July, just days after officers had been gunned down in Baton Rouge and Dallas, a mother of a man killed by police in Bridgeton in South Jersey stood at the foot of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue outside the Essex County Government Complex — and with Essex sheriff’s deputies listening, she predicted more officers would fall.
“Until they do something and bring justice for us, them officers better watch they back, too,” Sheila Reid said.
“The veiled threat that she put out there doesn’t sit well with the officers standing around there. But, again, it just points out, listen folks, someone like this could inspire,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontura.
Then and now law enforcement commanders tell their officers to practice vigilance.
“And we urge them and encourage them to put their bullet-proof vests on and to stay alert and keep an eye out instead of just sitting in the car and be vigilant. Don’t get complacent. This is not a good time to be complacent,” Fontura said.
The Pew survey also found a majority of both police and the public favor body cameras to record interactions with the public, technology that can elevate determining what happened in a disputed encounter well beyond what either claims.