The Trust Gap: Examining Public Perception of the Police

The relationship between the police and the public they serve is a complex one. A key factor of this relationship is trust – and the belief that police officers are committed to upholding the law, protecting the public, and treating all individuals with fairness and respect.

However, recent high-profile cases of police misconduct have raised serious questions about the police, leading to a significant erosion of trust among certain communities in the UK.

The ‘trust gap’ between police and the communities they serve has far-reaching implications for public safety, police effectiveness, and overall, social justice. We explored how significant this ‘trust gap’ is, by examining public perceptions of the police, and some factors that impact it.

What Is The Public Perception Of The UK Police Force?

The UK’s public perception of the police force is shaped by a wide range of factors, including individual experiences and media coverage.

Media coverage of police activities can shape public opinion, causing many to scrutinise the trustworthiness of the UK police force. 

We found that 43.7% of women say that recent events reported in the news have given them a less positive outlook on the police. In cases such as the murder of Sarah Everard, when the perpetrator was a policeman, the narrative that the police are protectors of our communities is tainted exponentially.

This can also impact women’s perceptions of policemen, with 50% of women reporting they are more likely to trust a policewoman than a policeman.

Do The UK Public Trust The Police Force?

We found that 40.3% of people do not trust the police force. 

With over a third of the public that we surveyed stating they do not trust the police. There has been a significant erosion of trust in law enforcement in the past three years, as GOV.UK found that in the year ending March 2020, 74% of people aged 16 and over in England and Wales said they had confidence in their local police force.

This erosion of trust in the police could be due to various reasons, such as public perception of the UK police force, impacted by a range of factors from media coverage, to individual experiences. So, we delved into the reasons why someone may not trust the police force. 

42.5% of people reported that they have had a negative experience with the police. Unfortunately, just under half of people have had negative experiences with the police force, which doesn’t work to increase the amount of trust that the public has for them. 

Although levels of trust in the police force are low, we found that most of the public would still report an array of crimes to them. However, without a viable alternative solution to maintaining public order, enforcing laws, preventing and detecting crime, and protecting life and property, reporting crimes to the police is almost imperative. 

Crimes The UK Public Are Most Likely To Report

From a list, survey respondents selected which crimes they are most likely to report to the police.

  1. Murder 74.2%
  2. Sexual Assault 70%
  3. Manslaughter 66.8%
  4. Stalking 62.6%
  5. Burglary 59%
  6. Hate Crime 50.2%
  7. Fraud 45.4%
  8. Tax Evasion 19.9%
  9. Littering 7.7%

Yet, with reports of negative experiences with the police, and low levels of trust, there is a clear need to address issues of trust and accountability with the communities they serve. The public agree, with 64.2% of people believing that there is a need for police reform.

Methodology and Sources:

All data was collected by Criminal Injuries Helpline, from a survey of 1000 anonymous responses.

GOV.UK ‘Confidence in the local police force’ figures – published 2021.

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