Anchorage Residents' Perceptions of Police

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"Anchorage Residents' Perceptions of Police" by Brad A. Myrstol. Alaska Justice Forum 28(1): 1, 7-8 (Spring 2011). This article presents Anchorage resident perceptions from the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey on Anchorage Police Department response time, helpfulness, fairness, use of excessive force, crime investigation, and crime prevention.

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Since 2005 the Justice Center has administered three community surveys designed to provide an empirical portrait of residents' experiences and views of life in Anchorage. (Detailed results from each of the surveys can be accessed on the Justice Center website [Scholarworks@UA]. The 2009 survey will be published summer 2011.) In all, more than 6,300 Anchorage residents have participated in these three studies.

Although each iteration of the Anchorage Community Survey (ACS) has included some unique questions, they have all shared in common a set of core items measuring social cohesion and trust, informal social control, civic engagement, residents' satisfaction with local government services, and residents' evaluations of the Anchorage Police Department (APD). This article presents results for the last of these core community survey topics-residents' evaluations of APD-using data from the most recent version of the ACS, which was fielded in 2009.

Each version of the ACS included six items asking respondents to rate APD on the following dimensions of police performance: response time, helpfulness, fairness, use of excessive force, crime investigation, and crime prevention. The same four-point response scale was used for all six items: poor, fair, good, or excellent. Each survey also asked respondents how satisfied they were with the services provided by APD (measured on a five-point scale ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied), as well as how much confidence they had in the police department (measured on a five-point scale ranging from none to a great deal).

2009 Anchorage Community Survey Result

Performance of APD

Figure 1 presents results from the 2009 ACS for the six police performance measures described above. Two additional police performance measures-order maintenance and responsiveness to community problems-are also presented. The bars in the graph represent the percentage of respondents who reported good or excellent ratings for each measure.

These results show that a substantial majority (in excess of 60%) of respondents reported APD was doing a good or excellent job when it came to the use of excessive force, being helpful and friendly, treating people fairly, maintaining public order, investigating crimes, and responding quickly to calls-for-service. Over half of residents (58.7%) rated APD's efforts to address neighborhood-specific problems as good or excellent, and nearly half (49.2%) gave a favorable rating to the department's crime prevention activities.

Figure 1. Anchorage Residents' Perceptions of Police

Satisfaction with APD

Figure 2 presents the percentage of ACS respondents that indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with five essential services provided by the Municipality of Anchorage: emergency medical services (EMS), fire service, police service, K-12 education, and public transportation (People Mover). Resident satisfaction with the police department is highlighted in black.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65.6%) reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the services provided by APD, a result consistent with surveys of public satisfaction with police that have been conducted in other cities. Among those who provided favorable APD satisfaction scores, 65 percent indicated that they were satisfied and 35 percent reported that they were very satisfied. Anchorage residents' level of satisfaction with APD was higher than that for K-12 education (59.8%) and People Mover (47.9%), but less than the satisfaction scores for EMS (76%) and the fire department (75.3%).

Figure 2. Satisfaction with Municipality of Anchorage Services

Confidence in APD

Figure 3 depicts how much confidence Anchorage residents have in APD. A majority of ACS respondents (57.2%) reported having quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the police department. Between a quarter and a third of survey participants (28.2%) said they had some confidence in APD. Roughly one out of every seven respondents (14.7%) indicated that they had very little (11.1%) or no confidence (3.6%) in APD.

Figure 3. Confidence in Anchorage Police Department

Procedural Justice

A growing body of research demonstrates that the single most important factor influencing people's evaluations of police is the quality of their past interactions with police officers. Simply stated, people who report that they were treated fairly by police in the past are much more likely to render positive judgments of police in the present, net of other factors (e.g., demographic characteristics, socioeconomic background, frequency of prior encounters with police, and so on). Importantly, research also shows that the positive effects of procedural fairness remain even when individuals are the recipients of negative outcomes. Those who are issued citations by police officers, and even those who are arrested and taken to jail, express positive views of the police if they are treated in ways they perceive to be respectful and equitable.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the relationship between people's subjective evaluations of their treatment by police and their resulting attitudes toward the police as a legal institution. This is because people's opinions of the police are the foundation upon which the institution's legitimacy is constructed.

The results presented in Figure 4 use data from the 2009 ACS to illustrate the relationship between procedural justice and public opinion of police. Figure 4 shows the average level of satisfaction and the average confidence level for two groups of respondents: those who rated APD fairness as good or excellent (highlighted in black) and those who rated APD fairness as fair or poor (highlighted in gray). The average fairness score was 3.9 for the first group and 3.1 for the second group. Those who rated APD fairness as good or excellent also had more confidence in the police department than those who rated APD fairness as fair or poor (3.8 vs. 3.1). Both of these observed differences were statistically significant. These findings suggest that Anchorage residents' opinions of the police, like those of residents in other cities, are directly influenced by their perceptions of the day-to-day processes and procedures the police use when interacting with members of the public.

Figure 4. Confidence in and Satisfaction with Anchorage Police Departments, by Perceptions of Fairness


Results from the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey show that most Anchorage residents think APD is doing a good or excellent job when it comes to providing core police services, that most residents are satisfied with the provision of police services in the municipality, and that most residents have confidence in the police department. In addition, the 2009 ACS data also demonstrate a relationship between residents' perceptions of procedural justice and their opinions of the police in general.

What do these results tell us about the nature of the relationship between the police and the community? The findings presented here suggest that, overall, there is a solid basis of support for the police among the residents of Anchorage. A small, but noteworthy, number of Anchorage residents did not look upon the police department favorably; nonetheless, there is little evidence to suggest that the relationship between the police department and the people of Anchorage, in general, is contentious or rife with conflict.

Brad A.Myrstol is an assistant professor with the Justice Center.

Other Alaska Justice Forum articles related to the 2009 Survey can be found at [Scholarworks@UA].

Prof. Myrstol's research related to perceptions of police includes his recent online article, "In Search of Respect: Examining Arrestee Satisfaction with Police," in the American Journal of Criminal Justice.