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Perceptions of police: Opinions illustrate a North-south divide

When it comes to perceptions of police performance, the provinces and territories aren’t too far apart in many ways, according to 2014 data recently published by Statistics Canada. Still, results showed views in the three Northern territories were consistently more negative than those of southerners.

Asked about the approachability of police, their provision of safety, fairness, enforcement of laws, prompt response, and education on crime prevention, there were trends in responses, but more-so among respondents themselves. Certain socio-economic indicators appear to have had an influence on responses and, particularly in the territories, Aboriginal identity was a common thread among those with less positive perceptions of police. 

Telling trends

Across the board, the population identifying as Aboriginal rated police performance well below that of non-Aboriginal people.

When asked about police effectiveness in enforcing laws, 43 per cent of Aboriginal people within the three Northern territories said they believed police were doing a good job, compared to 59 per cent of non-Aboriginal people.

When it came to perceptions of police response time, on average, 56 per cent of people in the territories said police were doing a good job. By contrast, only 41 per cent of Aboriginal people in the territories held this opinion, compared to 58 per cent of non-Aboriginals.

Self-reported victims of crime were also more likely to share a negative perception of police in the territories. For example, just 49 per cent of victims felt the police were doing a good job of ensuring public safety, compared to 65 per cent of non-victims.

According to the report, those two characteristics were the main predictors of negative police perception – and they are not entirely unrelated.

In 2015, a Statistics Canada report on victimization showed that, despite making up only five per cent of the national population, one quarter of the victims of homicide in 2014 were Aboriginal.

Among those, Aboriginal women represented 21 per cent of all of the female victims of homicide that year. Over the past several years, there has been increased attention given to the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and what many believe has been inadequate police and government response.

In total, Aboriginal women are six times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of homicide, and Aboriginal men are seven times more likely to fall victim than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. This higher rate of victimization is not limited to homicide.

Another factor that influences perceptions of police, though swaying the opposite way, is education. In certain areas of the survey, the level of education attained by respondents led to more positive perceptions of police.

In particular, people who had completed a university degree responded favourably to the approachability of police, their effectiveness at enforcing laws, and their prompt response to calls.

Limited access adds challenges

The area where the territories showed a markedly lower view of police performance than the provinces pertained to prompt police response to calls.

Among all three territories, 49 per cent of residents live in areas classified as remote, compared to 18 per cent in the provinces — a detail, the report notes, that could skew perceptions of police response time.

In Yukon, 56 per cent of people reported police were doing a good job of promptly responding to calls, followed by 46 per cent in the Northwest Territories and 45 per cent in Nunavut. On average across the provinces, 68 per cent said they believed police did a good job of responding to calls promptly.

Remote areas offer significantly more challenges to police and other first responders, both in the geographic distances that need to be travelled, poorer infrastructure, less detailed mapping, and areas where house and street numbers are not always available.

There are also limited resources for RCMP within remote areas, having only a few officers stationed and on duty at any given time. Some communities do not have permanent RCMP.

For smaller communities, access is far more limited than in centres such as Whitehorse, Iqaluit, and Yellowknife. It should be noted that in the territories, those smaller communities are primarily Aboriginal.

While response times are not the only indicator of varied opinions on police services, they are certainly illustrative of a trend and could partially explain how certain sects of the population view the police.◉

Photo: istockphoto/jwebb

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