"The Public and the Police," in Hans-Dieter Schwind, Edwin Kube and
Hans-Heiner Kühne (eds.), Festschrift für Hans-Joachim Schneider. Berlin
and New York: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 1998, 183-196.
The police are the primary representative of the criminal justice system. Surveys in
the US and Britain indicate that between 50 and 65 percent of the adult public
comes in contact with police over the course of a year. Opinion surveys reveal that
a majority of people are satisfied with the job that the police are doing. However,
research on the effects of contact with the police on public attitudes has not been
optimistic. Research suggests that, on balance, contacts have negative
consequences. They are somewhat less negative for contacts that are voluntary
and initiated by the public, including calling the police for information or to report
an accident. They are worst for involuntary contacts, ones that are initiated by the
police when they stop people while they are driving or on foot. Victims who contact
the police fall somewhere between these two poles, but are on the unhappy side.
With some exceptions, the more sustained contact people later have with the
institutions of justice and security, the more unhappy they are about it. A number
of studies in the United States and Great Britain have looked into this, and
document a long list of factors that contribute to public satisfaction or
dissatisfaction with the police. This chapter examines the public's assessments of
the police, and how they are formed. It examines the impact of victimization, actual
experiences with the police, and factors such as race, class, and gender Each of
these has an important effect on how people evaluate police performance and
activities. Together, they can provide us with a better understanding of the
determinants of the relationship between citizens and the state.