The disconnect between the police and the public may be bigger than you think.
Summary: Analysis of police officers’ online discussions show an insular profession with narratives about being mistrustful of political leaders, angry at the media figures, and frustrated with civilians who they feel do not understand their work. But one of the narratives suggests that there is an opportunity to bring police and civilians together.
Recent debates about incidents of police violence in America have given many people cause to ask what police officers are thinking. For the past few months, politicians, pundits, and protesters have debated the use of force by those we entrust with our protection. That conversation, together with polling, have offered insights about how Americans view their police force. For example, a Gallup poll of Americans taken between 2011-2013 indicated that only 48% of non-whites (and 60% of whites)have a “great deal” of confidence in the police,and many view policeexcessively militarized, over-aggressive, and racially biased.
Through all the public dialogue, the voice of ordinary police officers has been missing. This disconnect was particularly apparent when New York’s police officers turned their backs on their mayor and went on a partial strike, actions that earned shock and anger from the New York Times. Most Americans have been unable to hear what their public servants have to say, and when we can’t hear each other, it is hard to build understanding.
Monitor 360, a San Francisco-based analysis and consulting firm, used its Narrative Analytics™ process to analyze more than 3,000 publicly available posts from on officer.com, posted between December 1, 2014 and January 8, 2015. Narrative Analytics, a process based on both automated and human analysis, reveals that the conversations in the forum can be categorized into six primary narratives. These narratives are a synthesis of attitudes and beliefs expressed in the posts, written in the voice of someone who believes them.
The majority of these narratives (67%) express officers’ mistrust of politicians, anger toward media figures, and frustration with the general public. Only about 2% of the posts describe a need for systemic reform in police departments. Many police officers claimed that civilians cannot understand their jobs; others accused political and media figures of deliberately misinforming the public about police behavior.Three of the most prominent narratives, which Monitor 360 calls Civilians Don’t Get it, Anti-Cop Bias, and Blame the Race-Baiters, describe the law enforcement profession as either maligned or misunderstood. Together, narratives about mistrust account for more than half of the posts analyzed. The other prominent narrative, Officers are Targets, focused on physical threats to officers’ safetyin encounters with criminals.
These narratives can be categorized or grouped for further analysis and help us understand how these narratives can be leveraged for a solution. The largest group of narratives at 34%, Anti-Cop Bias, Officers are Targets, and Race-baiters are to blame can be characterized by victimhood. The police discourse reveals a set of stalwart narratives about defending the profession against outsiders from media, politics, and the criminal domain. Those narratives are deeply entrenched, center on victimhood, and will only be further amplified as the conversation around race and policing progresses. Those narratives push police and the public farther and farther apart.
The last narrative There’s a real problem provides an obvious opening for a solution, but at 2% is too small to leverage. That leaves us with the first narrative, which offers a glimmer of hope. In Civilians don’t get it there is a heavy dose of grievance, but not one that sets up the moats and walls that the other narratives do. This narrative is where there is opportunity. Community outreach that allow police officers and civilians to share their experiences, more education based programs with children or even police activity simulators to help civilians feel what its like to be faced with bodily harm are the kind of things that can bring police and civilians together.Download PDF