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Contacts between Police and the Public, 2008

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 10:00 A.M. EDT Bureau of Justice Statistics
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2011                             Contact: Kara McCarthy (202) 307-1241
HTTP://WWW.BJS.GOV/ After hours: (202) 598-0556


Police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts

WASHINGTON—An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in 2008, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. This is a continuing decrease in contact between police and the public, down from 19 percent of residents who had contact with the police in 2005 and 21 percent who had contact in 2002.

These findings are based on the Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), conducted every three years since 1999. The PPCS, a supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), consists of a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents age 16 or older. Nearly 60,000 people participated in the most recent PPCS, which was conducted during the last six months of 2008.

About five million fewer residents had face-to-face contact with the police in 2008, compared to the 45 million residents who had police contact in 2002. During this period, the most common situation in which people came into contact with the police was as a driver in a traffic stop.

The second most common reason for contact with police continued to be reporting a crime or problem, although the number of contacts that occurred for this reason decreased. Nearly 12 million residents said their most recent contact in 2002 was to report a crime or problem to police, compared to about 8 million residents in 2008.

Among people who had face-to-face contact in 2008, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly during their most recent contact that year.

Among persons who drove a motor vehicle during 2008, about eight percent reported that their most recent contact with police in 2008 occurred as a driver in a traffic stop. About half of drivers who were pulled over by police said that they were stopped for speeding. Most drivers (85 percent) who were pulled over by police during 2008 believed they were stopped for a legitimate reason.

In 2008, white, black and Hispanic drivers were stopped by police at similar rates. Male drivers were stopped at higher rates than female drivers, and younger drivers at higher rates than older drivers.

Police conducted a search of the driver or the vehicle in about five percent of traffic stops in 2008. Black drivers (12.3 percent) were about three times as likely as white drivers (3.9 percent) and about two times as likely as Hispanic drivers (5.8 percent) to be searched during a traffic stop.

Police issued a traffic ticket to more than half of drivers (55 percent) during a traffic stop, arrested about three percent of drivers, and issued warnings or took no action during the remaining stops. A greater percentage of Hispanic drivers (63 percent) than white drivers (53 percent) received a ticket during a traffic stop in 2008. An estimated 58 percent of black drivers were ticketed during traffic stops. Police were equally likely to issue tickets to males (56 percent) and females (55 percent).

A greater percentage of black (4.7 percent) than white (2.4 percent) drivers were arrested during a traffic stop. An estimated 2.6 percent of Hispanic drivers were arrested during a stop. Males (3.5 percent) were more likely than females (1.4 percent) to be arrested.

An estimated 1.4 percent of residents said the police used or threatened to use force against them during their most recent contact with police in 2008, which was not statistically different from the percentages reported in 2002 (1.5 percent) and 2005 (1.6 percent). A majority (74 percent) of the people who said that police used or threatened force against them in 2008 said they felt it was excessive.

Of those individuals who had force used or threatened against them in 2008, about half were pushed or grabbed by police and about one in four had a gun pointed at them. About 19 percent of persons who experienced the use or threat of force by police reported being injured during the incident.

Males were more likely than females and blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience use or threat of force. Individuals ages 16 to 29 were more likely than those age 30 or older to experience contact that resulted in force or the threat of force.

The report, Contacts between Police and the Public, 2008 (NCJ 234599), was written by BJS statisticians Christine Eith and Matthew R. Durose. Following publication, the report can be found at http://www.bjs.gov.

For additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ statistical reports and programs, please visit the BJS website at http://www.bjs.gov/.

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The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.

Date Published: October 5, 2011