In 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a survey on the interactions between police and members of the public. Although this survey was initially created in conjunction with the National Crime Victimization Survey, its stand-alone results provide us with some crucial context of the effect law enforcement has on the communities they serve.

Background Info:

Every three years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ carries out the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).The NCVS’s primary focus is to identify the most common crimes committed over the course of a single year. The Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS) is carried out in conjunction with the NCVS. However, this survey exists solely to collect information on interactions between police and the public. The survey defined contact in two separate ways:

  • Self or Resident-Initiated Contact – includes reporting an emergency, crime or other non-emergency matter to law enforcement.

  • Police-Initiated Contact – includes arrests, traffic stops, or being stopped by the police for any other reason. Traffic accidents also counted as police-public contact.

Key Findings:

Over the course of 2018, over 61.5 million people over the age 16 had at least one encounter with law enforcement. Of that number, 28.9 million had police-initiated contact, while 35.5 million contacted the police first. Additionally, 8.9 million had a police interaction as a result of a traffic accident. The following outlines the other key findings from the article.

In the prior 12 months, as of 2018, among persons age 16 or older—

  • About 61.5 million residents had at least one contact with police.

  • Twenty-four percent of residents experienced contact with police, up from 21% in 2015.

  • Whites (26%) were more likely than blacks (21%), Hispanics (19%), or persons of other races (20%) to experience police contact.

  • There was no statistically significant difference in the percentage of whites (12%) and blacks (11%) who experienced police-initiated contact.

  • Persons ages 18 to 24 were most likely to have any contact with police (30%) and to experience police-initiated contact (19%).

  • A higher percentage of blacks (4%) and Hispanics (3%) than whites (2%) or other races (2%) experienced threats or use of force.

  • Males (3%) were more likely than females (1%) to experience threats or use of force.

  • Four percent of blacks and 4% of Hispanics reported being handcuffed during their most recent contact with police, compared to 2% of whites and 2% of other races.

Methods

Carried out once every three years, the Police-Public Contact Survey is conducted by telephone. Data collection began on July 1st, 2018 and concluded December 31, 2018. Questions in this survey included: what type of police contact the individual had, the nature of the event and how recent the incident had occurred.

If the individual had multiple contacts with the police, they only needed to respond with their most recent interaction. The number of respondents increased by 47% in 2018. This was due to the NCVS’s ability to estimate victimization incidents on both state and local levels. This provided a larger sample size for both surveys to pull from. Due to the larger population size, more individuals were able to respond to the survey is in question. The overall response rate for the PPCS was 53.7%. 

Conclusion

Overall, this new survey gives us critical insight to the relationships between the police and the public. Given the events of 2020, it will be interesting to see if future reports have higher averages compared to this one. Most interestingly, however, is the identification of mistreatment of minority populations at the hands of law enforcement. It is further proof that we have a serious need as a country to reform our criminal justice system. If more efforts are not made soon, these numbers will continue to climb.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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