Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission announced that it would conduct its first survey of citizen satisfaction with the police. The results should provide us with helpful new ways to evaluate the Milwaukee Police Department’s performance and identify areas in need of improvement.
Unfortunately, media coverage provides a very distorted picture of police-citizen interactions. What makes the news, of course, is when officers become violent or exhibit extreme callousness. When video is available of such incidents, as is increasingly common, the vivid images may be repeated endlessly on TV or circulate virally on social media. Viewers may be left with the impression that such incidents are the norm. However, the vast majority of police-citizen interactions occur without anything newsworthy happening. Among other things, the Commission’s new survey should give us a much better sense of what happens in the more routine interactions and how those interactions affect public perceptions of the police.
Although this sort of survey data has not been available for Milwaukee specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics did conduct a national survey in 2011 regarding police-citizens interactions. The results, released in two reports earlier this fall, indicate a remarkably high level of citizen satisfaction, even among the minority groups who seem to bear the brunt of the high-profile incidents of police misconduct. (more…)