Do Americans trust their cops to be fair and just? New poll contains surprises.

January 15, 2015
A police officer gives a thumbs while arresting a demonstrator during a protest against police violence towards minorities at Grand Central Station in New York

A police officer gives a thumbs up while arresting a demonstrator during a protest against police violence towards minorities at Grand Central Station in New York January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Do police officers “routinely lie to serve their own interests?” Thirty-one percent of Americans believe they do, and that number rises to 45 percent among African-Americans, 41 percent among young people and 39 percent among Democrats. Republicans reject that charge three to one (60 to 20 percent).

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Those numbers come from a national poll of Americans just conducted by Reuters and the Ipsos polling organization. (Explore the full results here.) Still, the image of the police is more controversial than the reality.

Asked whether they approve of the job being done by “your local police department,” nearly three quarters of Americans say they approve. Approval is high among African-Americans (56 percent) as well as whites (77 percent), among Democrats (72 percent) as well as Republicans (84 percent).

On the other hand, the public is divided over whether “Police officers tend to unfairly target minorities” (37 percent agree, 43 percent disagree). African-Americans and Latinos believe the police do target minorities (69 percent and 54 percent, respectively). Fewer than a third of whites feel that way (29 percent).

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The racist image of the police is strongly influenced by politics. A majority of Democrats (53 percent) believe the police unfairly target minorities. Only 19 percent of Republicans agree.

Young people don’t trust the police. That’s not surprising. They’re the ones most likely to get into trouble. In the Reuters poll, young people were more than twice as likely as seniors to endorse the view that police officers tend to unfairly target minorities (53 percent among Americans under 30, 25 percent among those 60 and older).

These days, young Americans are much more likely than seniors to live in a multicultural world and to interact with minorities. Even young whites were more than twice as likely as white seniors to brand the police as racist (42 percent of young whites but only 20 percent of white seniors).

Do Americans “trust the police to be fair and just?” Most do (53 percent). But that, too, is a political issue. Only 30 percent of African-Americans, 43 percent of young people and 47 percent of Democrats say they trust the police to be fair and just. Trust in the police is much higher among seniors (67 percent) and Republicans (70 percent).

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Overall, these findings are reminiscent of research showing that Americans tend to be highly critical of Congress, while they hold a favorable view of “your own congressman.” That’s why they regularly re-elect over 90 percent of congressional incumbents even while denouncing the institution.Education researchers have found that college students tend to give low marks when asked to assess the quality of teaching in their schools. However, when asked to rate the quality of the teacher in the most recent class they attended, the marks come out much higher.

The same rule appears to apply to people’s view of the police: “The police may tend to be unfair and racist, but police officers around here are O.K.”

The poll also asked people whether they have a favorable impression of the Ferguson police department. Very few Americans have any experience with the Ferguson police department. They probably didn’t even know Ferguson was a town in Missouri a year ago. Only 21,000 people live there, out of 316 million Americans. What the public knows about the Ferguson police is what they see on television and read in the news.

And that is intensely political — and racial. Sixty-two percent of Americans say they have a favorable impression of the Ferguson police. But there’s a huge difference between African-Americans (32 percent favorable) and whites (69 percent). Republicans are overwhelmingly favorable to the Ferguson police (85 percent). Democrats are divided (51 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable).

One question was surprisingly less divisive: “Would you approve of your children (or future children) becoming police officers?” Americans as a whole say yes, 59 to 22 percent. Young people? 68 percent yes. Democrats? 58 percent yes. African-Americans? More tentative, but still favorable. By 45 to 30 percent, blacks approve of their children becoming police officers. In this case, reality — “It’s a good job” — is more positive than image.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

That would still make them better than the general population and a million times better than, nearly any, politician.

Posted by kevin2oh | Report as abusive

People project their own world-view on others and assume they do what they themselves do- LIE. Liars always assume others are liars. There you have it.

Is anyone really dumb enough to believe that Brown just had his hands up surrendering and Wilson shot him? No, Brown attacked Wilson, tried to take his gun.

Black lives matter? Then stop killing each other- 98% of blacks shot are shot by another black. FBI stats, look it up, get educated.

Posted by Factoidz | Report as abusive

Where is the statistic about how much the public lies? What about the percentage of scofflaws that exist? The number of people that routine break the laws and screw over their neighbors on a constant basis? What is the statistic on how many anarchists exist in the USA? What is the statistic about the number of psychotic people that are roaming the streets at any given moment?

Posted by SixthRomeo | Report as abusive

It means two thirds aren’t paying enough attention…

Posted by EndlessIke | Report as abusive

How would whites know if minorities were targeted unfairly? It’s silly to include their opinion since a white person would have no idea how other people are being targeted. As far a cops lying I absolutely agree. I am a white guy with a clean record except for traffic related incidents and even I have experienced cops outright lying on several occasions.

Posted by oakpkdude | Report as abusive

I really think the PD in my area is honest and little too soft when dealing with the Liberians.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Police are just people. They do not deserve exceptional powers. You do not have to speak to police or agree to a search of any kind. Even when you are totally innocent, give them nothing. Make them work for it, it’s their job. They are public servants and they work for you. Always ask: “Am I being charged, or am I free to go.” They are required to pick one. And if they charge you, the charges can’t just be their feellings. They need to have a basis in law, and they need to be written up. Police are just. Treat them with basic human respect, and no more. They are not special or above anyone.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The opinions of the public are formed by watching TV. This makes them generally imbeciles, which is why they vote in their same corrupt politicians, because they are imbeciles. The Police are a necessary entity for any society, but the problem isn’t most police but some police and there is never a time when any police union or other police officer admits that a policeman has been at fault. That is the point when the police become corrupt too. It is not possible that there is never a policeman at fault. So, they become as slimy as our politicians and supreme court. They are corrupt and absolute in their denials and unapologetic about the deaths of Americans. Sometimes they are doing their jobs, but it is impossible that they are never at fault. This lets us know too that the criminal justice system that never finds fault with itself or it’s soldiers is also corrupt. Most crimes are committed by whites and most prisoners are not white. Comments on the population are stupid since most people are just followers. They see the corruption in the system, it’s obvious to anyone who is awake, and they think what the heck, everyone is a dishonest crook, so only a fool is honest. So, so what if the people are crooked, they learned from the owners and masters, and their minions in the criminal justice system. And really, isn’t what they think true. If all our leaders and the corporations and the police and the criminal justice system are corrupt, and they are, then who is honest? Just the stupid fools who think that is the way it should be, just the fools.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

the 60% response just goes to show that all those cop shows on TV are doing their job at providing positive PR for the police (state) – if they knew how the cops view them, they wouldn’t be so sanguine.

Posted by wilhelm | Report as abusive

1/3 lie?? ho! a NYTimes (IIRC) investigation across several NE states revealed the liars held, at a minimum, a 90% majority. even cases where open perjury in court (against video evidence, no less), blatant falsehoods on sworn statements or depositions, criminal investigations and reports, or charges filed against innocent people, if an LEO was ever charged there are no known convictions in any court. ever.
so, if the man in front of you has a badge and a gun, the odds are pretty good he’s a liar, and not to be trusted.
the USA used to be the one country where a person did not live in fear of their police. and the first question they ask, is “why did you run?”. indeed.

Posted by KelevAdom | Report as abusive

It seems to me that this sample set was not representative of the American public.

Posted by jgenauer | Report as abusive

It’s not that I believe* that police lie; unfortunately, I know* it.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

police need to protect and serve only. if no one is in danger and no one needs assistance they have no right to bother anyone. just do your job.

Posted by potehid | Report as abusive

If you don’t support your own country’s police force then leave go to a country that you do support. IF you can’t stand behind your police then feel free to stand in front of them.

Posted by betrayed | Report as abusive

an amusing memory: 2 or 3 years ago a cop knocked on our door and claimed he’d seen a wanted fugitive on my porch; he asked for permission to search our home. upon granting that permission, i was told i could be liable for “harboring a fugitive”. ???
after they departed, i ran back my security cam record. the only other (non-family) creature on our porch that day was a stray tomcat licking his “self”.

Posted by KelevAdom | Report as abusive

Nothing like the lies that are directed at them.

Posted by Redford | Report as abusive

betrayed writes: “If you don’t support your own country’s police force then leave go to a country that you do support.”

What about environmental police (EPA)? Or tax police (IRS)? Yeah, thought so. You said it yourself: Love them all, or leave America.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

These statistics show that most Americans are brainwashed by the media and/or are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. No matter how many cops are caught on camera committing violent felonies against citizens or otherwise trampling the Constitution, too many people invariably take the side of “authority.”

Police in America are worse than mere liars. They’re essentially a kind of state-sponsored mafia. Your constitutional rights mean nothing to them. They only things they care about are (1) getting paid with your tax dollars, and (2) your dog-like obedience. Should you anger them, they won’t lose a wink of sleep at night over setting you up and getting you put in prison for years on false charges. Even the “good” cops who don’t falsely charge people, lie in court, or engage in cowardly acts of brutality, ALWAYS cover up for their “brother officers” who do these things. A cop’s attitude is that it’s not possible for a cop to do anything wrong.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

Police officers are not in the business of creating doubt. They testify to make the case. Creative testimony to bring a perp to justice occurs. Looking on the bright side, many of the convicted actually did commit a crime.

Posted by JimTheDiver | Report as abusive

I’d hate to think what living in this country would be like in the absence of any police. The Balkan wars following the collapse of the Soviet Union would probably pale in comparison to the chaos and violence that would erupt in the United States if police departments ceased to exist. This is not to say I think all police are angels or that they shouldn’t be disciplined (including job termination) if they are caught lying. But given how “Balkanized” this country has become, I think lying cops (and there are many, just like there are liars in every profession) are a minor concern.

Posted by Toomuchthinking | Report as abusive

Cops are liars. Virtually every interaction I’ve ever had with cops has involved cops lying. Not every one but virtually every one. We’ve had some spectacular examples of cops lying, under oath. And it’s not as if cops spend most of their time “protecting” the public. One of my neighbors in a town about 10 miles from Ferguson went out with the cops in one of these civilians see what cops do programs and spent most of his time with a cop that was looking for kids making out in cars on quiet neighborhood streets.

Like that’s an important task.

For all the commenters comparing cops to the general public, you are the problem. Cops are supposed to be better than the general public and they’re not and as long as we don’t expect them to be they won’t be.

Posted by majkmushrm | Report as abusive

Yes! There’s going to be law officers who lie to protect themselves. But being a law officer has nothing to do with it, …“Lying to save one’s skin.” It’s because law officers are human beings, flesh and blood.
Show me someone who says they’ve never lied, and I’ll show you Jesus Christ … or someone who just told another lie!
I believe the majority of the time, law officers strive to be honest and fair. I believe law officers strive to be good. Admit it folks, …they ain’t in it for the money.

Posted by T.L. | Report as abusive

The title of this article is silly. Everybody lies at least once in a while. Even the Pope has lied. So what.

Posted by 123456951 | Report as abusive

I live in a city where the majority of police are black….and yes they are racist liars.

Posted by ATroy | Report as abusive

Your statement of “What the public knows about the Ferguson police is what they see on television and read in the news”. Therein lies a huge problem because so often media slants the news to reflect their views. They showed Michael Brown as nice boy with a happy face instead of what he had become. I just viewed a video of Brown knocking an elderly man to the ground, kicking him then stealing his belongings. Is this the real Michael Brown? Would the people be rioting if they knew Brown was a felon and a bully and a thug that seemed enjoy beating up people smaller then him. By not reporting the real truth the media is inciting people to behave badly which I guess “sells newspapers”.

The media should be ashamed.

Posted by fedupaj | Report as abusive

I’m shocked so many Americans are so naive. All cops lie, it’s their business. Thank you KelevAdom for mentioning the NYTimes report- See? High 90%s for lying, based on facts.

Posted by TigerFalls | Report as abusive

What it says us that the police in the USA have stopped being public servants and have taken it upon themselves to confer some odd type type of “hero aura” to everything they do. last I checked these were all voluntary positions and the only thing citizens owe them is the same respect that you have for any other person. You do not owe them blind obedience or intimidation. Know your rights and insist upon them, as loudly as you must.

Citizens taxes pay the salaries of local police forces, and as such they are subject to citizen scrutiny, they are not above the law and they do not make the law.

Posted by Monodist | Report as abusive

As a trained military intel interrogator/translator and PSYOP Psychological Operations Propagandist, anybody in the U.S. who watches the news KNOWS the majors (i.e. NBC/CBS/ABC/FOX) all slant news by omission or playing up specific points of view. IT’S SO BAD NOW, I FEEL LIKE I’M IN A 3rd world country again. I AM AMAZED but not surprised. THOSE WHO DO NOT STUDY HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT. 1931-32 Feel the same???World on the brink? hmmmmm

Posted by Yoda007 | Report as abusive

We all know police. We all know they fudge things to cover themselves and their friends. Everybody in every job does this. What’s different about the police doing it, is that they are supposed to a cut above average. They clearly are not. Cops are expected to know and administer the law, but most cops have never finished a real 4-year college. Some have internet AA degrees, if any degree at all. Ask a cop. What is your 4-year degree in? They will fumble around, make excuses, but the bottom line is…. if they knew a real skill, they would not be patrol cops.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This is shocking to say the least!
69% of the US population doesn’t know their own police force?

Posted by cynicc | Report as abusive

Yoda007 offers: “As a trained military intel interrogator/translator and PSYOP Psychological Operations Propagandist…”

You had us at propagandist. Your wife is a lucky lady :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

if you are to enforce laws of society..are you above the law? it seems that most Pd’s think so.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

As a general rule, I believe they do lie, and about little things too. I want to trust my police but when they lie about traffic tickets can you expect them not to lie about the bigger things?

I’ve lived in Keller Texas for 25 years, and experienced the local police telling a lie about me running a stop sign, and then saw the same police officer stop another woman a few days later for the same “non-existent” violation. There’s no camera at this intersection to back us up so the court takes the word of the officer. They are supposed to be above reproach, that must be true if the judge sides with them based only on testimony, but it’s not true.

What can you do? The police chief’s office did not respond when I brought to there attention and honestly I fear retaliation if I push it further. The officer in question was a little verbally rough with me for no reason, I was only respectful to him, had my credentials ready by the time he walked up to my car. Honestly I thought he was going to draw his gun on me.

I’m an affluent white lady in an affluent white community, I can’t imagine how a lady of color would have been treated or how she would have felt. We should all be able to feel safe with our police.

Southlake is a very affluent community that shares Keller’s city limits. The police there have always been respectful, even when I’ve been in the wrong. It should always be that way.

Southlake police make me feel safe, like they respect me even if I did break the speed limit, the Keller police make me feel exploited, and they’ve gotten worse over the last two decades.

Posted by PenDavenport | Report as abusive

Who do you trust? The thugs? Walk in their shoes then judge.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” More about cops anyone?..

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Cops?yes.Politicians? No.

Posted by deerecub1977 | Report as abusive

I don’t know if these are good questions.

For example: “Would you approve of your children (or future children) becoming police officers?” Many parents would not express disapproval of their adult child’s job, whatever it may be. Maybe a person’s answer to this question reveals more about their own parenting style than it does about what they think of law enforcement.

Then there are the adverbs: “Do police routinely lie…” A person’s answer to this question hinges upon their understanding of “routinely.” A lot of people lie to protect themselves when they screw up, but, hopefully, screwing up is unusual and couldn’t be considered “routine,” so neither would lying about it. This question would provide better answers if “routinely” had been left out. “Police officers tend to unfairly target minorities.” This question almost assumes that police target minorities and it asks the responder if they think that’s “unfair.”

Sometimes, when pollsters use equivocal questions, they are trying to elicit specific responses. Or maybe these questions are just badly worded.

Posted by Eodril | Report as abusive

Regarding cops lying, people are people regardless of the station they hold, yet we have a tendency to hold authorities to a higher standard (often unrealistic) than the rest of the human race. From my own experience, (I’m 60), I’ve found the majority of police officers want to “protect and serve” their community. In two traffic incidents, police officers lied to justify stopping me.

An officer stopped me with my wife and son at the toll booth crossing the Riis Park bridge in NY on the way home from the beach for an expired registration sticker that I had in my console. When I showed it to him and apologized, he cursed me out and wrote a speeding ticket.

On another occasion on Long Island, we were dropping our son off at a birthday party on Long Island. Our car was full with my wife and two daughters. I needed to make a U-turn on a side street and there was a “No U-Turn” sign. I drove to the end of the block where there was no sign and made the U-Turn. An officer pulled us over and reamed me out in front of my family, “The people in this neighborhood don’t want people using their streets for U-Turns.” I won in court and he threatened me when we got outside of the courthouse.

Regarding racism. In my mid-teens, a friend and I did something teenagerish on a subway platform in an African-American community in Brooklyn and consequently arrested. Other than some of the police officers, we were the only white people there. My friend laughed about our situation, as dumb teenagers do, and a white officer came into the cell, slapped him in the face and reamed him out for being a “stupid white kid acting like a dumb ni**er.” I went in front of a judge with my parents, the assistant DA, arresting officer and our attorney in a closed to the public courtroom. The judge dressed me down for being a “white kid from a good family and acting like a…” He placed me on probation with youthful offender treatment and my case was expunged three years later.

Police officers and the authorities are just human beings. They aren’t better than “other humans.” They suffer the same weaknesses as the entire human race. Police do an impossible job and see the ugliest side of humanity that has to taint their perspectives. All said, I have the utmost respect for police officers. Remove the police force and anarchy like the wild west returns. Rather than slamming them for not being perfect like Jesus, provide more psychological support, ongoing coaching and oversight to weed out the few bad ones.

And yes, if one of my kids (now adults with careers) wants to become a police officer, I would support them. It isn’t my place to “allow” or disallow their career choices. My job as a parent is to raise law-abiding, moral, respectful, intelligent people who contribute to society.

Posted by GSH10 | Report as abusive

Policing is a ‘public trust’ We see in many communities today that the ‘trust’ is nonexistent. With all the marches we see across the nation demanding less brutality and more accountability.

Trust as we know is hard won and easily lost.. Sad they lost it.

Posted by AndreLeonard | Report as abusive

My younger son is in fact a criminal justice major and plans to join a police force when he graduates next semester.

My wife and I are fearful as heck, but that’s what he wants to do. My entire extended family consists of corporate types so this is certainly an anomaly. The good thing is that he’s a very well balanced person, fair, kind, realistic and has reasonable street smarts. I’ve told him that the best way to bring needed change is from within an institution.

For the commenters below who ask blacks not to kill each other, that’s a false equivalency. The request of normal citizens if for the police to not kill unarmed citizens, period. It’s the same kind of false logic where white people (e.g. Scalise) don’t want the government to apologize for slavery because “they” didn’t do anything. I guess some people are just nasty, what a way to lead a life.

Posted by SkipK | Report as abusive

Thanks to a zillion of hours in overtime,one of the best paying jobs in America. Not to mention retiring on a tax-free full pension in your late 30’s or early 40’s. Here’s the kicker! The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates numerous jobs as more dangerous. Including truck driver, roofer, lumberjack, fisherman and sanitation worker. Would you believe!

Posted by Handbook | Report as abusive

When your kid is old enough to be a cop you can’t legally deny them anything. That being said I’d never encourage them to be a cop, or military. The reason I say that is not because I don’t believe these professions can be honorable, they certainly can, but because I’ve seen too many things in the structure of them that I don’t like. Policing has been increasingly about statistics and budgets and not about serving communities and it shows. It shows in the character of too many of the people who wind up in uniform and the behavior of the officers. We’ve arrived in a point in history where the “War on Crime” has become a war on anybody who isn’t a cop. This is a pretty far cry from what Robert Peel intended over a century ago. I wouldn’t want any kids I have getting into that mess. You want to serve your community be a firefighter or an EMT.

Military is even worse because the Federal Government can’t think of enough ways to try and screw you out of everything you earn while you’re serving. You break the contract you go to prison, they break it and that’s just tough. I don’t see any point in serving a country that can’t honor it’s own promises to the people it thoughtlessly tosses into the meat grinder.

Posted by Alecto | Report as abusive

How many people lie when pulled over for an infraction, or are placed under arrest? How would the public vote when asked THAT question?

Posted by ArgieBargie | Report as abusive

Does your kid want to make over $200,000/yr. and retie in their early 40’s at over $100,000/yr, for a job that’s less dangerous than a truck driver or sanitation worker! You bet they do. That’s why thousands apply for each opening. Unfortunately, if you don’t have political connections, you’re not going to be a cop.

Posted by Handbook | Report as abusive

I once had a debate with a friend who is a state trooper. I said that I believe all members of the government should be considered to be under oath while on duty and that a lie or written falsehood should constitute perjury. He was vehemently opposed because, and he said this not me, the police need to be able to use lies and misinformation to secure confessions and aid in the prosecution of criminals.

The police routinely and institutionally lie to obtain guilty pleas and leverage people (people who have not had access to a lawyer I might add) into giving evidence against themselves. This is not an opinion but documented fact. The fact that only 31% of Americans is aware that their police will intentionally mislead them to serve their own interests is testimony to the gross ignorance of your average citizen.

Now, whether or not the police are institutionally racist is a much more ambiguous area. I don’t think they are, I think they are operating off of profiles and high densities of criminals come from ghettos and poverty stricken zones which often have a disproportionate number of minorities. This then gives the illusion of racism. In rural white areas the cops are known to be more prone to stopping and questioning people in beat up pickups and living in white trash neighborhoods, since that’s where the criminals tend to be. If you are a young black or latino man and you don’t want to be profiled, you shouldn’t dress or behave like a gang member. It’s common sense. I don’t run around wearing a cutoff or a klan outfit cause I don’t want to be associated with white trash or criminal groups. It’s simple as that.

Posted by Alloran | Report as abusive

Do Americans trust their cops to be fair and just?- NO!

Posted by uc8tcme | Report as abusive

Most police would have you believe that they are somehow exceptional. They believe their own wives and boosters, in other words.

Well, the reality is…. police are people. People get weird when you give them a little bit of power. It’s really that simple. Suck up to them at your own risk.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

“…if they point guns at us, make no mistake about it. We will shoot them – a lot,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd

Wonder if this cop is a lying?

Posted by weez0001 | Report as abusive

If brandishing a gun and pointing it at an officer is a crime punishable by death….

There should be 50 dead hicks at the Cliven Bundy ranch outside of las vegas.

Instead, Obama asked his federal officers to use some restraint that day. And no one got hurt. The truth is, officers have to make a judgment call. When they make bad ones, they be prosecuted and sentenced. Not defended by mindless boosters who blindly call them all ‘heroes’. Many cops are not heroes, they are just common trigger-happy idiots.

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Posted by Online Stores | Report as abusive

No. Simply because the laws that apply to me seem to not apply to Police. They have a good ole’ boy fraternity that defends every action a police officer takes. Especially if that action is highly questionable. Policing in the nation is losing credibility and respect from their own doing and circling the wagons protecting bad cops. It’s not good when one has interaction with a police officer stopping them and the first thing that comes to mind is ; Is this cop going to shoot and kill me for no good reason ? IMO Cops want to be cops to escape a regular job demands and for the power they have over others . Protect and serve is the last thing on their minds. Municipalities use them to bring in extra revenue.

Posted by RonnL | Report as abusive