Perceptions of the police « News @ ODU


The Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at Old Dominion University recently completed data collection for the 12th annual Survey of Living in Hampton Roads (LIHR). The purpose of the survey is to better understand residents’ perceptions of the quality of life in Hampton Roads and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other topics of local interest such as perceptions of the police, employment and other issues. A total of 796 online and telephone surveys were completed between July 12 and October 3, 2021. It is important to note that this year’s methodology differs from previous surveys of life in Hampton Roads. For several reasons, including ongoing concerns about COVID-19 and labor shortages, we conducted both telephone surveys and online panels. This change limits to some extent the ability to compare this year’s results with those of previous years or to confidently generalize the results to the entire population of Hampton Roads. Nevertheless, we note that an increasing number of surveys have come online in recent years and that in many cases useful data have been developed despite the challenges of online survey research. For more detailed information on methodological changes and potential impacts, please see the Methodology section in the full report, or contact the SSRC directly.

The 2021 Life in Hampton Roads Survey included two items that measured negative experiences with the police:

  1. In the past year, have you or anyone you know had a negative experience with the police (for example, the officer yelled at you, called you names, pushed or grabbed you )?

  2. In the past year, have you heard of anyone in your local community who had a negative experience with the police (for example, the officer yelled at them, called them names, pushed them or caught it)?

Both items refer to relatively serious negative encounters and are not issues associated with standard day-to-day encounters with the police. The response categories were simply “yes” and “no”. These questions were also asked in the 2020 survey.

Experiences with the police

This year around 17% of respondents said they (or someone close to them) had had a negative experience with the police, down from 20% reported last year. The percentage of residents who heard of someone in their local community who had a negative encounter with the police was much higher. Indeed, almost a third of respondents declared such knowledge in 2021 (31.1%) and 2020 (32.8%). This number is likely much higher because there are many ways to hear about unpleasant incidents – from family, friends or the media.


Consistent with last year’s findings, we also found significant differences in negative encounters with police by race and ethnicity. African Americans (29%) were almost three times more likely than whites (9.5%) to report that they or someone close to them had had a negative experience with the police. People identifying with another race or ethnicity were more likely to report this type of experience than white people, but much less likely than African Americans. Almost half of African American respondents (48%) said they had heard of a negative experience in the community. This percentage is more than double that of white respondents (23%) or other identifying races (20%).


Negative experiences with the police also varied considerably from city to city. Focusing first on direct experiences or knowing someone close, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake reported the lowest rates at 10.2% and 11.9%, respectively. Hampton and Newport News were at 17.3% and 19.6% respectively, then the percentages climb to 24.8% for Norfolk, 27.5% for Suffolk and 30.2% for Portsmouth. The pattern is similar for the second question about knowing someone in town who has had a serious negative encounter. Chesapeake and Virginia Beach were relatively low (20% and 24.3%), and Newport News was also in that range (21.6%). The percentages rise for other cities, with Suffolk being 10 percentage points higher than any of those at 34% and Hampton another 10 percentage points higher (43.8%), followed by Norfolk (45.7% ) and Portsmouth (53.7%).


Perceptions of the police

Residents of Hampton Roads responded to various questions about their perception of local police. Two of these questions were also asked in 2020; one focused on general satisfaction and the other on trust in the local police. In terms of overall satisfaction, the vast majority of respondents (74.8%) were either very satisfied (31.9%) or somewhat satisfied (42.9%) in 2021. This is an increase of approximately 7.9% compared to 66.9% saying they were satisfied a year ago. .


Similar to last year, the majority of residents (80.2%) either trusted the police a lot (39.3%) or somewhat (40.9%). Combined, that total was up from 73% last year.

trust in the police

The 2021 survey also asked three new questions about the police. Specifically, we asked “How would you rate the work of the police (in your city) with respect to each of the following: 1)

Use the right amount of force for each situation? 2) Treat racial and ethnic groups equally? 3) Protect people from crime? The response categories were excellent, good, fair and poor.

Again, general perceptions were positive. The highest rating was for the use of force, with around 61% rating the local police as good (36.9%) or excellent (23.9%). Not far behind, about 57% of residents rated their local police as good (36.3%) or excellent (21.1%) in protecting people from crime. However, only half (50%) of residents rated the local police as good (29%) or excellent (21%) in dealing with racial and ethnic minorities. Just over 19% of respondents rated local policing as poor in this area, compared to 9.8% for use of force and 11.6% for protecting people from crime.

Consistent with national trends and findings from previous years of the Life in Hampton Roads survey, there are clear and statistical race/ethnic differences in perceptions of local policing. For these comparisons, the perception, satisfaction and confidence questions were recoded to combine the percentages of the two positive items (eg excellent/good, very satisfied/satisfied, very much/fairly). These comparisons showed that the largest differences are between whites and African Americans, with respondents identifying as something other than white or African American generally falling in the middle of the other two groups.

The biggest African-American/White differences are in items asking respondents to rate the job their city’s police are doing in terms of using the right amount of force for each situation, treating people equally racial and ethnic groups and the protection of persons against crime. The differences between whites and African Americans exceeded 33%. There is a difference of 37.6% in ratings of police use of force, and a difference of 35.5% and 35.2% for dealing with racial/ethnic minorities and protecting people from violence. crime, respectively.


Perceptions of the police by city

The five police attitude/perception measures varied significantly across the seven Hampton Roads cities. Several things are clear from the data. First, some consistently rate the police quite highly and certainly higher than other cities. Specifically, overall, respondents in Virginia Beach, Suffolk, and Chesapeake are more confident and satisfied with the police and rank their police forces higher in terms of use of force, treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, and protection of people against crime. We note that Newport News residents also rate their police force relatively well, with more than 80% saying they are satisfied with and trust the police, but their ratings on all three specific items are at least 10 points lower. percentage to those of Virginia Beach (a reference point) and this also applies to Hampton, Norfolk and Portsmouth. These results suggest that the three wealthiest cities with smaller concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities have higher regard for their police forces than the other four.

trust by city
good perception

The Hampton Roads Life Data report and press releases will be placed on the Center for Social Science Research website as they are released ( centers/ssrc). Follow-up questions regarding the 2021 Life in Hampton Roads Survey should be directed to:

Tancy Vandecar-Burdin, PhD


The Center for Social Science Research

Former Dominion University

757-683-3802 (office)

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