How the public see the police: an Australian survey: 1

Abstract

A study of the way in which citizens view their police often provides a revealing glimpse of a nation's commitment to democracy, and respect for authority. Among Australians, commentators have long identified a strong anti-authoritarian trait which has been said to account for the average citizen’s view of the ‘police as enemies, army officers as traitors to democracy... the boss as a barely necessary evil and anyone who gives an order as deeply suspect'.

The results of a national survey of public attitudes to police and police services reported here indicates that Australians are more respectful of their police, and pleased with the assistance they provide, than some observers have suggested. At a time of major controversy and change among many of the nation's enforcement agencies, a majority of survey respondents indicated that they still possessed great respect for the police. But the report also shows that the level and degree of this public respect varied widely between jurisdictions, as did citizens satisfaction with a range of police actions.

As consumers of police services, and as taxpayers who must meet the substantial and escalating cost of law enforcement, all citizens have a vital interest in ensuring police use their resources and powers efficiently, effectively and fairly. Surveys like this provide one important method of evaluating how well the police are achieving these objectives. The results of the present survey suggest there is plenty of scope for improvement.