The Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA) released an annual survey Monday, the results of which show a high approval rating of local police.
This is the 5th year of this particular survey, conducted each year by Saint Norbert College's Strategic Research Institute. Out of 400 state residents surveyed, the major findings were that 70% people think their communities are headed in the right direction with regards to their police force and a combined 84% of those surveyed said they either somewhat or strongly approved of their local police force's handling of the job.
"It's clear that people feel very strongly and positively about their communities and they feel very strongly and positively about their law enforcement as well," said Jim Palmer, WPPA's Executive Director.
Keeping communities safe and improving education remained the highest community priorities on this survey, while the lowest priority seemed to be consolidating local government services. 84% agreed a well-funded police force improves quality of life, 92% agreed a well-trained police force makes a community safer, and nearly all surveyed wanted the same or more efforts in community policing.
"[Community Policing] just really goes a long way towards keeping the community safe and building upon a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve," Palmer said.
The use of deadly force was another issue residents were asked about, with 14% saying it's always justified, 40% saying it's justified most of the time, 39% saying only some of the time, and 6% saying it's never justified. WPPA hoped to address the perception versus reality concerning fatal shootings. Residents were surveyed on how many of those fatally shot by police in 2016 were armed. The majority said either "most" or "some" but according to this study, 100% of those killed by police in 2016 were armed.
"There is a significant proportion of Wisconsinites that believe unarmed individuals are being shot and killed when in fact every single one of the individuals that were shot and killed by a Wisconsin police officer were in fact armed," Palmer said.
In 2016, 17 people were shot and killed by police in Wisconsin during various incidents. 8 of those were armed with a firearm, 4 with a knife, 1 with a pitchfork, 1 with a hatchet, 1 with a taser, 1 with a facsimile (or toy made to look like a real gun), and in one case a man was shot while police say he tried to use his vehicle as a weapon.
Of those 17, 12 were Caucasian and 5 were African-American. The majority surveyed felt that officer-involved deaths were mostly minorities.
"When we looked at the reality, in all of the officer-involved deaths that occurred last year, 70% of them [in Wisconsin] were white," Palmer said.
Outside of the numbers, the survey results also serve as a boost to law enforcement who feel on the national level, law enforcement is viewed negatively.
"The country as a whole tends to take a more negative view," Palmer said. "We wanted to really match that against how people feel about their communities."
Law enforcement in La Crosse said they've had and continue to have community support.
"I think that's pretty evidenced with the recent incidents we've had in town," said Sgt. Tom Walsh of the La Crosse Police. "People step up, they call, they involve themselves with law enforcement, they're not afraid to talk to us, and we're able to keep our community a much safer place because of that local connection."
That connection is important, especially to the officers.
"While others are running away from critical incidents, law enforcement are running into those critical incidents," Walsh said. "It is really, really important for the community to stand behind not only those officers, but those officers' families as well."
Below are full results from the survey: