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ODU Survey: Perception of police in Hampton Roads varies by race, city

Overall satisfaction and trust in police have grown in the region, but results show clear divisions related to police use of force and negative interactions.

NORFOLK, Va. — A new survey from Old Dominion University (ODU) shows trust and satisfaction with police has grown among Hampton Roads residents, but respondents showed clear divisions among racial and city lines when it came to negative experiences with officers.

The ODU Social Science Research Center surveyed 796 residents throughout Hampton Roads about police perceptions as part of its "Life in Hampton Roads" survey.

About 4 in 5 people surveyed in Hampton Roads in 2021 said they trusted the police, and 74.8% of respondents said they were somewhat or very satisfied with police, a 7.9% increase from ODU's survey results in the previous year.

However, the data also shows disparities among people different races, and among people who live in different Hampton Roads cities -- something Dr. Tancy Vandecar-Burdin, director of the Social Science Research Center, analyzed.

"There’s a different story here, there’s a different lived experience for these communities," Vandecar-Burdin said. 

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At least two-thirds of White people said police do a good job with using the right amount of force, treating racial and ethnic groups equally, and protecting people from crime.

Between 31.3-40.9% of Black people agreed with these assertions, with other races and ethnicities falling in the middle of the differing opinions. 

Vandecar-Burdin said the disparity may reflect the experiences with police officers that minority residents report.

"About 29% of Black respondents have had that personal or negative interactions with police compared to 10% of our White respondents, so that’s a pretty big difference," she said.

Satisfaction with police also varied by city, with people in Newport News, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk reporting higher rates of approval, which Vandecar-Burdin said was likely connected to the demographics of people who live there.

"Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Chesapeake have some lower crime rates, they’re perhaps more affluent, probably less diverse than other cities where you see lower satisfaction and lower trust," she said.

Vandecar-Burdin said city and police leaders can use this survey to gauge their efforts, taking into account that perceptions and experiences can vary.

As a whole, perceptions of police in Hampton Roads improved from the last time ODU conducted the survey. That was in 2020, following the killing of George Floyd, and while people across the country protested against police brutality.

"It looks like a year from that, now, attitudes have maybe softened a little bit," she said.

Vandecar-Burdin said city and police leaders can use the survey results to gauge their efforts, and said individuals interested in the results can should take into account that both perceptions and experiences with police can vary by person.

"It's useful to get beyond just 'What I think I know,' versus 'Here’s what a wide swath of the community is experiencing and what they see and they feel they know about these issues,'" she said. 

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