Background to the study
The public image of the police is measured a number of different ways. Sometimes surveys ask about “local” police, police in “your neighborhood” or police in “your area,” while other surveys ask about the police as a general institution. The terminology used to gauge public support also varies widely, with questions asking about whether respondents “approve of” or “trust” the police, have “confidence in” or “respect for” the police, or whether they “support” or have “favorable” views of the police. What makes these terms “general” is that the criteria or standards of performance remain unspecified. They do not ask the public to focus on either police processes or outcomes. The person answering this question could in good conscience choose both, neither or perhaps something else entirely. And without additional information, we are unable to determine how much weight the survey respondent gives to specific aspects of police performance. Such questions are like those that ask the public to indicate whether they approve of the job that the president of the United States is doing – without specifying any particular aspect of that job. Such questions are useful, however, in that they give the survey respondent an opportunity to offer a summary that takes all of those aspects that are relevant to his or her view into account, weighting each, at least implicitly, as he or she prefers.
Not surprisingly, the terminology used in public opinion polls seems to make a difference in measuring the general image of the police. Another important element to consider in public opinion polls is whether citizens are voicing an opinion about their own previous experiences with the police, those of their neighbors, friends or family members, or simply general impressions based on a number of sources, from television and the media to opinions shared within the subcultures in which they are immersed. With all these questions in mind, it is difficult to come to terms with what constitutes the “general image” of police. Why is the “general image” of police worth measuring? There are a number of important reasons. First, an understanding of the general image of the police among citizens provides an important indicator of support for the institution among its constituents. Understanding how the public views the police is a crucial first step in improving relationships between the police and communities. This is why community surveys are a prominent component of the community policing movement. Similarly, measurements of the public image of the police can be compared. By producing such measures, agencies can learn whether their image is improving or declining over time, or whether they are held in higher or lower esteem by their citizens than police in other communities.
Statement of the problem
It is difficult to draw sweeping conclusions about changes in the general image of police over time because there are few data sets that collect comparable information over time. There are several reasons why these “longitudinal” data sets are rare. The primary reason is that designing survey questions is a demanding, technical task – one that requires repeated testing among respondents to ensure that they understand the question, that it is not confusing, that the response options make sense, and that it measures the phenomenon of interest. Survey questions, or the response options that go along with them, frequently change format based on feedback from survey respondents, the whims of the researcher, a lack of awareness of prior research, or any one of several other possible explanations. Readers need to use caution when the format of a question changes even slightly, since any deviation from the trend may be due to the change in the question format rather than a change in the quantity being measured hence need for investigation.
Objectives of the study
General objective of the...
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