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Graph of the day: Job approval of NYC police commissioners by race/ethnicity since 1997

- May 13, 2015

New York City — with a population of 8.4 million people, which would make it the nation’s 12th-largest state — is very fortunate to have pollsters that survey representative samples of the city’s residents on a consistent basis. Prominent among these is the Quinnipiac University Poll (known affectionately as the “Q-Poll” by polling nerds and bad spellers), which today released data from its latest periodic survey of New Yorkers.
The poll includes information on how the city’s residents rate Bill de Blasio’s job as mayor (meh), their assessment of whether crime is a serious problem in the city (blacks and Hispanics think so more than whites), and their level of support for making arrests over “quality-of-life” offenses in their neighborhoods (surprisingly, uniformly high).
Deep within the data release is a magisterial time series that begs visualization: the job approval ratings of the city’s police commissioners since 1997 among the city’s black, Hispanic and white residents. It begins with two appointees of Mayor Rudy Giuliani — Howard Safir and his successor, Bernard Kerik — through Ray Kelly (who served the entirety of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s three terms) and de Blasio’s current police commissioner, Bill Bratton.  (Bratton and Kelly are repeat performers: Both served as commissioner in earlier administrations as well, but, unfortunately, the Q-Poll has no data from that time.)

There’s a lot that can be said about this data, and I’ll mostly let Monkey Cage readers draw their own conclusions. Residents’ approval of Bratton is strikingly lower than that of his predecessor, particularly among Hispanics and whites. Ironically, this means that the public’s assessment is now less divided along racial and ethnic lines than it was during the Bloomberg administration, when whites gave Kelly particularly sky-high approval ratings.
Of course, job-approval numbers for any police commissioner reflect a complex mix of assessments about the department’s effectiveness at fighting crime and concerns about police misconduct. What’s clear is that New Yorkers of all backgrounds are more skeptical of police — and the man who leads them — than was true just a few years ago.