Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2017

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Officers more reluctant to carry out duties, Pew study finds

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L.E. Baskow

A Metro Police officer keeps an eye out as the Black Lives Matter organization moves along the Fremont Street Experience during another protest and march in downtown Las Vegas on Saturday, July 16, 2016.

Fallout over recent high-profile police shootings involving blacks has unnerved American officers to the point that many of them are "reluctant to fully carry out some of their duties," according to Pew Research Center findings released Wednesday.

The study, touted as "one of the largest ever conducted with a nationally representative sample of police," and authored by Rich Morin, Kim Parker, Renee Stepler and Andrew Mercer, comprised the responses of nearly 8,000 U.S. officers, the research organization said.

Furthermore, there was an increase of officers killed in ambush-style shootings — 21 of the 63 officers shot to death last year were ambushed, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That's a 56 percent increase compared with the previous year and the highest total of similar deaths in more than two decades.

Prior to officers being killed in an ambush by gunmen in Dallas and Louisiana, about 93 percent of the officers questioned by Pew researchers said they were more concerned for their personal safety.

Also according to the Pew study:

The majority of officers questioned believe that recent killings of black people by police, and the resulting demonstrations, have made policing harder. And as tensions between police and minorities become aggravated, law enforcement representatives feel their jobs get riskier.

Two-thirds of the officers believe the controversial shootings are "isolated incidents and not signs of broader problems between police and the black community," which is a substantial difference from the sentiment of 60 percent of U.S. non-police adults who say the shootings are "symptoms of a deeper problem."

Still, white and Hispanic officers (about 60 percent of them) deem their relationship with black citizens as good or excellent. However, only 32 percent of their black colleagues agree.

Close to three quarters of officers questioned said "they have been reluctant to use force when it is appropriate," while 72 percent of them have become "less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious."

The study determined that officers are "deeply skeptical" of the motivation behind protests that have followed high-profile shootings. About 68 percent of them said the demonstrations "are motivated to a great extent by anti-police bias," while 10 percent of them say the motivation lies in the demonstrators trying to "hold police accountable for their actions."

Theorizing on why violent crime had surged in many U.S. cities, including Las Vegas, in 2016 FBI Director James Comey noted that the "Ferguson effect" may have partly been to blame. The theory states that officers had stood down from their duties in order to avoid public scrutiny.

Speaking to the Las Vegas Sun in an editorial meeting early in December, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that Metro Police officers were not standing down from their duties, but that due to public scrutiny and a lack of support from the federal government, "I would be comfortable in saying that our officers have that gnawing at them all the time," he said at the time. "I would be comfortable saying they're not being as proactive as they used to be, but I don't see them actively de-policing."

Metro has implemented several programs to try to bridge the relationship between its officers and minorities. A bulk of the changes arose following a 2012 U.S. Justice Department study into the department's use-of-force tactics.

To read the full Pew report, visit here.

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