"The Police and Public Opinion in Britain." American Behavioral Scientist, 39 (No.
4, February 1996), 421-432.
In Britain, public opinion surveys play an increasing role in monitoring and guiding police
accountability. Some of these surveys have been national in scope, but local police forces
in England and Wales are also conducting surveys to gauge the public's views of what
police priorities should be and what their experiences with police have been. Not all of the
news that comes from these surveys is good. During the 1980s, the British Crime Survey
(BCS) and other surveys documented a sharp decline in public satisfaction with police and
in their respect for the occupation. Trust in the police has declined, as has confidence in
the legal system generally. Both national and local force surveys point to the same
conclusion and document disproportionate declines in satisfaction with policing among
racial minorities. This article summarizes the findings of a number of the most recent British
surveys. There is a review of trends in satisfaction with British policing and evidence from
the surveys about the specific sources of public discontent with police work. The article
also examines popular assessments of where the police should be focusing their attention.
The results put police administrators in somewhat of a conundrum, for they have to make
harder choices than the British public is willing to make about their priorities.