Trust in the police

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Related Themes: Blogs, Police legitimacy

Trust in the police

Last Friday the pollsters Ipsos MORI published the results of the latest in their long-running series of Trust in Professions’ polls, which ask people whether or not they trust people from a range of different occupations to tell the truth.

The police come out of this year’s poll better than most, with 65% of respondents trusting the police to tell the truth, 28% not trusting them, and 7% saying that they didn’t know. As Figure 1 shows, this is not as good as doctors, teachers or judges, for example, but it is better than civil servants and in a different league from politicians (only 18% of people trust them to tell the truth) and journalists (21%). Given the recent coverage of Hillsborough and plebgate’, and the ongoing arrests of police officers following the News of the World scandal, this result may have been better than some expected.

It is also noticeable that the level of trust in the police’s truthfulness has remained remarkably consistent over time. As Figure 2 shows, the results have barely shifted since Ipsos MORI started asking this question in 1983, with the proportion trusting the police to tell the truth only ranging from 58% to 65% in the last 30 years. If anything, the trend has been very marginally upwards over the years, despite recent high-profile scandals.

Of course the police could do better they should aspire to be at the top of the table not competing for a Europa League place and the fact that more than a quarter of the population do not trust the police to tell the truth is a cause for concern. This is also only a narrow and fairly simplistic measure of the public’s trust of the police (albeit one that has been consistently tested using the same question). It should not be confused with broader, and more nuanced, measures of trust and confidence. For example the proportion of people saying the police are doing a good job, as measured by the British Crime Survey, fell from 91% in 1982 to 75% in 2002/03, before rising (following a change in methodology) from 47% in 2003/04 to 62% in 2011/12.

This polling does indicate, however, that the bad publicity that the police have received in recent months and years does not appear to have had a negative impact on the public’s perceptions of their truthfulness. At what has been a difficult time for officers, this is some rare good news for the police service.