Distributed October 23, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel



Taubman Center for Public Policy

Providence residents rate police highly, unsure about treatment of races

A survey of 509 voters in Providence, conducted Oct. 20-21, 2001, finds a majority of voters rank Providence police highly and 30 percent believe Providence police have gotten better over the last year. Voters are divided on whether people are treated the same regardless of race; many think there should be more training on race relations and a civilian review process to check on citizen complaints.


PROVIDENCE —Fifty-six percent of Providence residents think the Providence Police Department is doing an excellent or good job overall, according to a new public opinion survey by researchers at Brown University. However, residents are divided on whether people are treated the same regardless of race.

The survey was conducted Oct. 20-21, 2001, at Brown University by Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and the John Hazen White Sr. Public Opinion Laboratory, and Marion Orr, associate professor of political science, urban studies, and public policy. It is based on a citywide random sample of 509 residents of Providence. Overall, the poll had a margin of error of about plus or minus four and one-half percentage points. Questions and answers appear below.

The survey was done in conjunction with the Taubman Center’s Thomas J. Anton/Frederick Lippitt conference, “Assessing the Police,”, to be held Oct. 25-26. Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans will speak on “Cleaning Up the New Orleans Police” at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 25, in Sayles Hall on The College Green.

When asked to rate the service provided by the Providence police over the last year, 56 percent rate it excellent or good, 19 percent say it has been only fair, 4 percent rate it poor, and 21 percent say they are unsure. Thirty percent believe the police department has gotten better over the last year, 46 percent think it has stayed about the same, 3 percent feel it has gotten worse, and 21 percent do not know.

Minorities were more likely than whites to give the police good overall ratings. Sixty-two percent of minorities rated the police good or excellent, compared to 52 percent of whites. They also were more likely (33 percent) than whites (19 percent) to say the police have gotten better during the last year. Minorities (25 percent) were more likely than whites (21 percent) to report that they had made direct contact with the Police Department to report a crime or ask for assistance.

Fifty-four percent say Providence police generally are courteous in their dealings with people, 54 percent believe the police are fair in their handling of people, but only 38 percent think the Providence police generally treat people the same regardless of race. Minorities (59 percent) were more likely than whites (52 percent) to think the police are courteous, and to believe the police treat people the same regardless of race (41 percent for minorities versus 29 percent of whites).

To see how city residents feel about a variety of suggested changes, we asked them whether they support or oppose several ideas that have been publicly discussed. Sixty-six percent feel the department should devote more extensive training to police officers on race relations, 62 percent believe Rhode Island should have a single training center for all local and state police officers, 58 percent support the adoption of a civilian review process that allows citizens to review complaints against police officers and suggest punishment, and 48 percent believe the department should make special efforts to recruit minority police officers.

Minorities were more likely (66 percent) than whites (53 percent) to support the creation of a civilian review process and to think there should be more police training in race relations (74 percent for minorities compared to 64 percent for whites).

Seventy-one percent of city residents say they feel very or somewhat safe when walking around their particular neighborhood, but 42 percent indicate there are some parts of Providence where they would like to go at night but do not because they would not feel safe. Thirty-five percent think crime in Providence is a very serious problem. Minorities (19 percent) were more likely than whites (7 percent) to say they do not feel safe walking around their neighborhood at night.

When asked about their personal crime experience over the past year, 4 percent of city residents say their car has been stolen, 9 percent report their car has been broken into or vandalized, 3 percent indicate their house or apartment has been broken into, 2 percent say someone took something from them by force or threat of force, and 3 percent indicate they were personally assaulted or attacked. Twenty-three percent say they have made direct contact with the Providence Police Department in order to report a crime or ask for assistance, while 76 percent say they have had no contact. Fifty-five percent believe the amount of police patrolling in their neighborhood is about right.

For more information, contact Darrell M. West at (401) 863-1163 or consult the Web site www.InsidePolitics.org.

Survey Questions and Responses

In the past year, how many direct contacts have you had with the Providence Police Department in order to report a crime or ask for assistance? 76% no contact, 10% one contact, 6% two contacts, 3% three contacts, 4% four or more contacts, 1% don’t know or no answer

In the past year, has:

a) your car been stolen:
   4% yes, 95% no, 1% don’t know or no answer
b) your car been broken into or vandalized:
   9% yes, 89% no, 2% don’t know or no answer
c) your house or apartment broken into:
   3% yes, 96% no, 1% don’t know or no answer
d) someone taken something from you by force or threat of force:
   2% yes, 97% no, 1% don’t know or no answer
e) you were personally assaulted or attacked:
   3% yes, 96% no, 1% don’t know or no answer

How serious of a problem do you think crime in Providence is: 35% very serious, 43% somewhat serious, 9% not very serious, 13% don’t know or no answer

How safe do you feel when you are walking around your neighborhood at night: 40% very safe, 31% somewhat safe, 17% not very safe, 12% don’t know or no answer

Are there some parts of Providence where you would like to go at night but do not because you would not feel safe? 42% yes, 47% no, 11% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the Providence police generally are courteous in their dealings with people? 54% yes, 15% no, 31% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the Providence police generally are fair in their handling of people? 54% yes, 12% no, 34% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the Providence police generally treat people the same regardless of race? 38% yes, 28% no, 34% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the amount of police patrolling in your neighborhood is: 2% too much, 55% about right, 34% not enough, 9% don’t know or no answer

Overall, would you say the service provided by the Providence police over the past year has been: 10% excellent, 46% good, 19% only fair, 4% poor, 21% don’t know or no answer

In the last year, do you think the Providence police department has: 30% gotten better, 46% stayed about the same, 3% gotten worse, 21% don’t know or no answer

How strict do you think the police should be on law-breakers: 67% very strict, 18% somewhat strict, 1% not very strict, 14% don’t know or no answer

Do you think it is more the job of police officers to: 56% enforce the laws, 18% resolve conflict between people, 26% don’t know or no answer

Do you support or oppose the idea of Providence adopting a civilian review process that allows citizens to review complaints against police officers and suggest punishment? 58% support, 19% oppose, 23% don’t know or no answer

Do you believe Rhode Island should have a single training center for all local and state police officers? 62% yes, 17% no, 21% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the Providence Police Department should devote more extensive training to police officers on race relations? 66% yes, 14% no, 20% don’t know or no answer

Should the Providence Police Department make special efforts to recruit minority police officers? 48% yes, 33% no, 19% don’t know or no answer

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