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What the public doesn’t know influences its trust in police

With greater transparency, departments can raise support for their officers and technologies


By John Erich, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Two years after the turbulent summer of 2020, Americans remain largely positive in their views of police – but they cite room for improvement in one important area.

Just 14% of those responding to a recent survey about their attitudes toward law enforcement said they found policing in the U.S. to be “extremely transparent.” More than twice as many (29%) said it had no transparency. As a result, at the local level, just one in four respondents reported complete trust in their jurisdiction’s police.

Technologies exist that can help police do things like process evidence faster, respond more quickly to calls, and be more objective in performing their duties. But the less understanding the public has of them, the less likely they are to trust those technologies or the police who use them.
Technologies exist that can help police do things like process evidence faster, respond more quickly to calls, and be more objective in performing their duties. But the less understanding the public has of them, the less likely they are to trust those technologies or the police who use them. (Public domain)

That’s the big takeaway from Veritone’s 2022 Transparency and Trust Report, “Shining Light on Public Safety & Community Relationships and How Technology Can Help.” It’s the company’s second such annual report and has produced some striking findings around how the public views police and what it wants from them. It polled a representative sample of 3,000 American adults of varying genders, locations, and political preferences.

In a sense it’s not surprising that many Americans find police lacking transparency. Many tools used by officers – things like facial recognition technology or automatic redaction software – are specialized to the field and somewhat opaque to those outside it. Many Americans simply may not understand the capabilities of advanced technologies and how police use them to fight crime and keep communities safe.

That’s an idea bolstered by two other results from the Veritone survey. Around a quarter of those who responded had no opinions to offer on multiple questions, even key queries.

When asked how their local police departments did at keeping their communities safe, 24% of respondents didn’t provide an answer. When surveyed about their general attitudes toward police, a similar percentage offered no response.

While the survey was anonymous, its findings concluded respondents may have needed more information to offer opinions on matters they didn’t fully understand.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS TRUST

That points to one of the most important things departments can do to bolster their transparency and, in turn, the trust of the public – proactive outreach and education about new initiatives and capabilities. “With clearer communication and more shared information and resources, we could potentially see more people form definitive opinions,” the report concluded.

In fact, the survey found, when respondents were familiar with law enforcement technologies, an average of 81% were more likely to have some trust in them.

“Education needs to happen before you implement something,” observed Veritone Marketing Director Daniel Wong – a message echoed by police chiefs in a webinar the company hosted last year. “Agencies can really gain public trust and further adoption of technology when they start previewing, and selling and telling the community ahead of time that they’re looking at this technology.”

That was one of the report’s bottom-line findings. Technologies exist that can help police do things like process evidence faster, respond more quickly to calls, and be more objective in performing their duties. But the less understanding the public has of them, the less likely they are to trust those technologies or the police who use them.

WHAT TECHNOLOGIES WERE MOST AND LEAST TRUSTED?

The report delved further into trust around specific technologies commonly used by law enforcement. The most trusted were body-worn cameras (in which 65% of respondents reported some or total trust) and automatic fingerprint detection (54%). At the other end of the spectrum, artificial intelligence (AI), security robots, surveillance drones, and automatic license plate recognition all had more than 30% of respondents report little or no trust.

The correlation between knowledge and trust was apparent here too. Generally, the report found, the technologies that have been around and used the longest carried the highest public confidence. Newer, less familiar technologies like AI and drones were conversely rated as having the greatest potential for misuse (33% and 30% respectively).

Particularly with AI, that shows a bit of a disconnect. Americans routinely utilize the benefits of AI with products like digital voice assistants (Siri, Alexa), services like streaming apps (Netflix, Hulu) and even basic activities like typing (autocorrection, predictive text). But in law enforcement contexts, they are warier of it – potentially due to unfamiliarity with newer uses like gunshot detection and facial recognition.

RESPONDENTS SAY PRIORITIZE VIOLENT CRIME

The 2022 Transparency and Trust Report produced several other main findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said racial bias still exists in policing, and more than half (55%) said their local department hasn’t shared a clear plan to address racial bias and systemic racism. Again, in this area, openness breeds confidence. A quarter of respondents said they had developed more confidence in law enforcement due to greater transparency in this area over the last five years. This, the report noted, “[shows] promise that trust can be bolstered with clearer communication.”
  • A full 70% of Americans agreed that being a police officer in America has become more difficult in the last five years, 62% said it had become politically polarized, and 61% thought you could support police and still be antiracist.
  • An overwhelming 84% of respondents said police should prioritize fighting violent crime. Only 42% said they should spend more time on administrative duties (reviewing reports, etc.), and just 24% agreed they should be doing things like documenting drivers’ perceived races at traffic stops.

PRODUCE THE PROOF

The widespread shift from manual to automated processes that’s occurring society-wide encompasses policing too and carries vast potential to make officers’ lives simpler and law enforcement more objective. A significant portion of the public, however, remains wary about new technologies like AI and how police might use them.

It’s up to departments and officers to produce the education, effort, and proof of value that will soften that skepticism about specific products and the transparency of police in general.

Read the Veritone 2022 Transparency and Trust Report here.

Visit Veritone for more information.

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