“Policing is my area of expertise. I’ve always been interested in the impact of policing on public perception and crime.” Tammy Kochel paused, gathering her thoughts. “I felt obligated to do the study because I had a unique data set that provided baseline views on how county residents felt about police prior to the Michael Brown shooting and unrest. I could offer knowledge that other researchers were not positioned to be able to.”
As associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University, Kochel surveyed residents of St. Louis County, Missouri, between 2012 and 2013. She gathered data “on how different kinds of policing strategies in hot spots of crime impact public perception of police.”
After the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, Kochel saw an opportunity to revisit the 2012-13 study. In September and October 2014, she gathered data on the public’s perception of police legitimacy and public trust, examining how the event in Ferguson affected the community. A recent follow-up study with the same residents examined the long-term impact, nearly a year later. Kochel also interviewed police personnel who were intimately involved with handling the unrest in Ferguson.
Though she and her team at SIU are still analyzing data, Kochel found two interesting results from the surveys. The initial impact showed that trust in police and perceptions of police legitimacy declined considerably among African-American residents living in high crime areas in St. Louis County—Ferguson is in the northern part of this county—while other residents’ views remained stable. More recently, perceptions among these same African-American residents show improvements, while non-African-American residents show an 8 percent decline in trust since October 2014.
Results from her study were cited in the U.S. Department of Justice’s most recent collaborative reform report on the St. Louis County Police Department.
Kochel is partnering with the Charles Koch Foundation to continue the study. Part of the plan is to do a follow-up survey with police officers to continue exploring the impact on policing in St. Louis County.
Kochel’s goals for the study reach beyond the academic sphere. She would like to see the results inform strategies for improving the public’s relationship with and trust in police.
The Charles Koch Foundation requests proposals from scholars like Kochel who are already working to understand the challenges facing our criminal justice system and work towards solutions.