(Reuters) - Confidence in police in the United States has dropped to the lowest level in more than two decades, with just 52 percent of Americans expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence, according to a Gallup poll released on Friday.
The confidence level in police matched the low seen in 1993, when Gallup first began measuring it as a federal civil rights trial got underway over the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers.
Since 1993, American confidence in police has ranged from the low of 52 percent to a high of 64 percent in 2004, the Gallup poll found.
The annual poll on confidence in U.S. institutions was taken earlier this month with a random sample of 1,527 adults aged 18 and older living in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The findings come amid heightened scrutiny of the treatment of African-American men by police in the United States, an issue that flared last year after the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere.
“These events likely contributed to the decline in confidence in police, although it is important to note that Americans’ trust in police has not been fundamentally shaken - it remains high in an absolute sense, despite being at a historical low,” Jeffrey Jones of Gallup said in an accompanying report.
Eighteen percent said they have very little or no confidence in police, the poll found, the highest level Gallup has measured to date.
Gallup said that African-American confidence in police has averaged 30 percent over the last two years, well below the national average of 53 percent, and much lower than any other subgroup.
African-American confidence is down six points from 2012-2013, which is similar to the four-point drop among all Americans, the poll found. One reason African-American confidence has not changed disproportionately over the last two years is that their confidence in police was already low, the report said.
The largest change was seen among Democrats, whose confidence in police dropped 13 percentage points over the last two years compared with 2012-2013, the poll found, noting that blacks are disproportionately likely to identify as Democrats.
Independents’ and Republicans’ confidence in police did not change over the same period of time, the poll found.
Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech