November 13, 2014

Poll examines race and law enforcement in Illinois

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- While most Illinoisans are satisfied with their police department’s performance, response time, and treatment of different members of the community, opinions among non-whites are less positive, according to a new poll by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. 

Illinoisans also oppose the idea of arming police with military equipment and split on whether it is necessary for a police force’s racial makeup to match its community. 

The poll of 1,006 registered voters, taken Sept. 23 through Oct. 15, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

The poll finds race plays a role in opinion differences among registered voters, with non-whites being more critical of police than whites on most issues, especially when it comes to the racial makeup of local police forces. Geographical areas and neighborhood type also make a difference, with Chicago or more diverse neighborhoods being more likely to see police in a less favorable light compared to their suburban, downstate, and predominately white neighborhood counterparts. 

The poll examined broad questions concerning race and law enforcement in Illinois.  It found Illinoisans are: 

  • Split on whether a police department’s racial make-up should match the community it serves.

There were 47.8 percent of respondents saying matching racial make-up is necessary while 46 percent of respondents maintain that it isn’t necessary. The difference is well within the margin of error for the entire sample. 

Nearly seven out of 10 black respondents stated that the racial composition of their local police department should be similar to the community, while one-half of white respondents said it is not necessary. 

Clear majorities exist when political party and ideology are introduced. There were 67.7 percent of Republicans and 63.7 percent of conservatives who said matching the racial composition of a police force with its home community isn’t necessary. These ratios almost flip when looking at Democrats and liberals, who said that police department racial composition does matter at 61.3 percent and 61.2 percent, respectively. 

Geographically, 60.5 percent of Chicago residents polled agree their police department’s racial makeup is important, while just 38.3 percent of downstate residents take that same view. Respondents in the Chicago suburbs were almost equally divided. 

“Living among people of different races and ethnicities makes a person more likely to agree that diversity is important in public officials,” said Kent Dolezal, a Simon graduate research fellow, who worked on the poll.  “Those living in mostly white neighborhoods most likely already have a police force that is of the same racial makeup. They may not see this being an issue of concern since they aren’t experiencing it themselves.” 

  • Give good marks to their local police department on the quality of their police protection. 

Seven of 10 Illinoisans give their local police department a favorable evaluation on protection, while one in four give only fair or poor marks.  

Republicans give local police the highest marks with more than four out of five saying their police are excellent or good. Democrats and independents give close to equal excellent or good ratings of around 70 percent. From a demographic standpoint, while four out of five whites give their police departments high marks, just half of black respondents do likewise. Black respondents also have the largest share of dissatisfaction at 47.3 percent.  

Overall, Chicago residents gave the lowest ratings with two-thirds giving the excellent or good ratings, compared to the Chicago suburbs where the top ratings come from three-fourths of the sample. Downstate residents’ ratings rest almost exactly between their two counterparts at 71.9 percent. 

  • Think police response times are good. 

Seven out of 10 Illinoisans say their police department is either excellent or good at quickly responding to calls for help and assistance. Police receive high marks across the political and ideological spectrum, topping 70 percent in most cases. 

When race and ethnicity are taken into account, three-fourths of white Illinoisans give ratings of excellent or good.  That falls to just over one-half when asking black Illinoisans, who report dissatisfaction with police timeliness almost two-fifths of the time. Citizens of other races and ethnicities rate police highly two-thirds of the time.  

  • Believe their police department’s racial makeup is similar to the community. 

Almost three of five Illinoisans agree that their local police department’s racial makeup represents that of the community.  

However, black respondents were evenly split, with 46.6 percent saying the police makeup was similar to their communities while 45.2 percent took the opposite view. Among other non-whites, 51 percent stated the police were representative while 29.8 percent said otherwise. In the white community, 61.8 percent of respondents state the police reflect their community. 

When taking the area of the state or the racial composition of the neighborhood into consideration, a large proportion of blacks and other non-whites continue to see their police departments as out of balance with the local population; this is especially true in the Chicago suburbs, downstate and in more diverse neighborhoods. The white respondents in those same areas had responses of “don’t know” near or over 20 percent.  

“When we see one set of people very tuned into an issue and a large portion of the other set not seeing it as an issue at all, the chances of a serious, constructive conversation are reduced,” Dolezal said. “One group is mystified why the other group is so concerned with the situation. At the same time, that second group is confused why the other group doesn’t seem to get it.” 

  • Feel police respond equally to all community members.  

As to whether local police respond equally to the needs of all community members, Illinoisans in the poll affirmed the statement by a 76.3 percent to 12.7 percent margin. At 86.6 percent, Republicans are the strongest supporters of this statement. Democrats and independents both tally above 70 percent. Ideologically, conservatives are most likely to agree on the notion at 83.5 percent; Liberals and moderates agree at 71.9 percent and 75.7 percent, respectively. 

As with other questions, the story is different when race, geographical area and neighborhood composition are added to the analysis. Whites, taken as a whole, see police providing services to all community members at high rates (80.4 percent). Whites living in predominately white neighborhoods affirmed the statement at 83.1 percent Whites living in more diverse neighborhoods and/or Chicago still supported the notion of non-bias among police officers at rates over 70 percent. 

Police still had good favorability numbers when the views of minority groups are investigated. Black respondents gave the lowest marks among racial groups, but claims of equal treatment by police were still strong at 63 percent. Non-whites in Chicago were the most critical with only 55.1 percent seeing no bias. 

Although police departments did not achieve any ratings below 50 percent, the disapproval numbers do become significant among minorities, topping 30 percent in Chicago, downstate and for those living in diverse neighborhoods. 

  • Don’t want local police to have military equipment.

Three out of five Illinoisans said military-style weapons and vehicles should be for the armed forces and not be used by local police. Democrats and liberals are the strongest opponents -- both topping 70 percent. More than one-half of Republicans and conservatives shared that opinion. 

Among racial groups, seven of 10 black respondents say such weapons should return to the military, compared with 61.9 percent of white respondents. Geographically, opposition to police militarization was strongest in Chicago (69.5 percent) and its suburbs (67.2 percent), while downstate the opposition to militarization was still a majority (54.5 percent). 

For more information, contact David Yepsen, institute director 618/453-4003, Charles Leonard, institute visiting professor and a poll supervisor at 618/303-9099, or John S. Jackson, institute visiting professor, at 618/453-3106. 

Results of the poll are available here

The Simon Institute Poll interviewed 1,006 registered voters across Illinois.  It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  This means that if we were to conduct the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances the results would vary by no more than plus or minus 3 points from the results obtained here.  

Live telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas.  Cell phone interviews accounted for 30 percent of the sample.  A Spanish language version of the questionnaire and a Spanish-speaking interviewer were made available.  Fieldwork was conducted from Sept. 23 through Oct. 15.  Customer Research International reports no Illinois political clients.  The survey was paid for with non-tax dollars from the Institute’s endowment fund. 

Crosstabs for the referenced questions will be on the institute’s website, 

Note:  The”Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Poll,” the “Simon Poll” and the “Southern Illinois Poll” are the copyrighted trademarks of the board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University.  Use and publication of these polls is encouraged -- but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale.