WPPA Poll: Support for community policing, some disparity between Caucasians and minorities

70 percent of minorities say not enough community policing, more Caucasians supportive of local police

More people are in support of more community policing rather than less, according to a 2016 statewide poll.

WPPA released results from their fourth annual poll examining the public’s perception of police enforcement in the state. They found that only 3 percent of their sample said police spend too much time in their neighborhoods, while 57 percent felt they spend enough and 37 percent felt they spend too little. Of the minorities in the poll, 70 percent felt that police spend too little time policing their communities.

Jim Palmer, WPPA executive director, said community policing was defined as when a law enforcement officer is assigned to patrol a specific neighborhood. “The idea is they develop relationships with people who live in that neighborhood and that community policing area, and it’s clear that by using that general definition, that the public strongly supports community policing,” he said.

Palmer said the results show community policing is fundamentally important to people regardless of their race or gender.

“When you see an effort like here in La Crosse, when you had community officers cleaning up Cameron Park last week, I think that’s something that really means a lot to people that live in that area,” he said. “That’s really how you build a relationship with the people you’re supposed to serve. It’s clear people place a high value on that and we hope it continues.”

The La Crosse Police Department does community policing through their neighborhood resource program started in 2013 in which officers are assigned to certain neighborhoods.

“When citizens see that, that the Police Department is invested in the community, that we want to work through whatever concerns or issues that they have, that starts to build trust,” said Detective Sgt. Andrew Dittman. “Putting a name with the face, breaking down these barriers, that these police officers aren’t robots, they’re human beings too. If they have a personal relationship with a police officer, they’re more likely to be able to report crime.”

Dittman said the department has added two neighborhood resource officers for downtown in the last two weeks.

Palmer said there wasn’t a big difference in local police approval when comparing this year’s poll to those in the past, despite highly publicized incidents.

“Obviously, there have been a lot of news items related to policing in the media, particularly in the national media,” he said. “Despite some of the narratives that have emerged from those national stories, our poll shows that Wisconsinites hold law enforcement officers in extraordinarily high regard.”

Although the poll showed a total of 80 percent of respondents approved of their local police force, 83 percent of Caucasians approved, while only 59 percent of minorities did. Palmer said it’s important to draw attention to that disparity.

“We wanted to drill down on that and understand that a bit more,” he said. “Hopefully by talking about that on a state basis, as we’re trying to do, only then once we accept that reality, can we begin to address that gap.”

St. Norbert’s College Strategic Research Institute helped WPPA conduct the poll, in which 400 participants, who were representative of the state’s demographics, were randomly selected for a telephone questionnaire regarding police perceptions.