Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey
Perceptions of police performance in the territories, 2014

Release date: June 13, 2016 Correction date: (if required)

Perceptions of the performance of an institution are one marker, among several, of the perceived ability of an institution to perform its duties and carry out its mandate. Negative perceptions of an institution’s ability to perform key duties can undermine public belief in institutional legitimacy and can negatively influence the willingness to interact with or support particular institutions (Jang, Lee & Gibbs 2015). This is especially of interest in the case of the police, who are a particularly visible institution in Canada due to the nature of their work (Roberts 2007; Skogan 2006).  

The rate of police strength, or the number of police officers per 100,000 population, is higher in the territories than it is in the provinces, a trend which has historically been the case (Hutchins 2015). Similarly, rates of police-reported crime and self-reported victimization are higher in the territories than in the provinces (Boyce 2015; Perreault & Hotton Mahony 2012). Though the work of police involves a variety of tasks in addition to responding to crime, perceptions of crime are one factor that is associated with the perception of police performance (Cotter 2015). 

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization asks Canadians about their perceptions of police performance in the provinces and in the territories.Note 1 This report examines the perceptions of the police among Canadians living in the three territories. Furthermore, perceptions are explored by territory and by key demographic and socio-economic characteristics to explore differences in perception among residents of the territories. Unless otherwise noted, all differences presented in the text are statistically significant.

Perceptions of police performance in the territories generally positive

The GSS on Victimization asks Canadians whether they believe police are doing a good job, an average job, or a poor job at being approachable and easy to talk to, ensuring the safety of citizens, promptly responding to calls, treating people fairly, enforcing the laws, and providing information on ways to prevent crime.  In general, residents of the territories believe police performance is average or above-average.

The proportion who believed police were doing a good job varied somewhat by the specific task in question. While more than two-thirds (68%) of residents of the territories thought the police were doing a good job being approachable and easy to talk to, about half believed police were doing a good job enforcing the laws (51%), promptly responding to calls (49%), or providing information on crime prevention (46%) (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Perceptions of police performance, 2014

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Measures of police performance (appearing as row headers), Good job, Average job and Poor job, calculated using percent
units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of police performance Good job Average job Poor job
percent
Being approachable and easy to talk to 68 24 8
Ensuring safety of citizens 61 32 8
Treating people fairly 55 32 13
Enforcing the laws 51 38 11
Promptly responding to calls 49 33 18
Providing information on ways to prevent crime 46 35 19

While the proportion who stated police were doing a good job varied, overall perceptions were generally positive. For all six measures, a large majority of residents believed police were doing a good or average job. The specific performance measures most likely to be rated negatively were promptly responding to calls and providing information on crime prevention, with about one in five residents stating police were doing a poor job (18% and 19%, respectively).

Compared to residents of Canada’s provinces, the relative perception of police performance among residents of the territories is generally consistent (Cotter 2015). As with the provinces, residents of the territories were most likely to state that police were doing a good job at being approachable and easy to talk to, and least likely to state that they were doing a good job of providing information on crime prevention.

However, the perception of police’s ability to promptly respond to calls differed. While in the provinces, responding promptly was the third-highest rated measure of police performance, it was the second-lowest rated measure in the territories. This relatively lower ranking of this measure may be related to the nature of the population, as 49% of respondents in the territories lived in a rural area compared to 18% of respondents in the provinces.

Perception of police performance consistent across the territories

There was virtually no difference in the perception of police performance between the three territories. The sole exception was the perception of police’s ability to promptly respond to calls, where the proportion of residents in Yukon stating police were doing a good job (56%) was higher than the territorial average (49%). Compared to the Northwest Territories (51%) and Nunavut (54%), a somewhat smaller proportion of the population in Yukon lived in an area classified as rural (42%).

Compared to the provinces, residents of the territories were less likely to state that police were doing a good job in general (Chart 2). With the exception of the perception of police’s ability to be approachable and easy to talk to in Yukon and the Northwest Territories, the proportion of the population who believed police were doing a good job at each of the other measures was lower in the territories than in the provinces.

Chart 2 Perceptions of police performance, by territory, 2014

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Measures of police performance (appearing as row headers), Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Provinces, calculated using percent of respondents stating the police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of police performance Yukon Northwest Territories Nunavut ProvincesChart 2, Note : Reference category
percent of respondents stating the police are doing a good job
Being approachable and easy to talk to 70 69 65Chart 2, Note * 73
Ensuring safety of citizens 63Chart 2, Note * 58Chart 2, Note * 61Chart 2, Note * 70
Treating people fairly 54Chart 2, Note * 56Chart 2, Note * 55Chart 2, Note * 68
Enforcing the laws 52Chart 2, Note * 52Chart 2, Note * 46Chart 2, Note * 65
Promptly responding to calls 56Chart 2, Note * 46Chart 2, Note * 45Chart 2, Note * 68
Providing information on ways to prevent crime 48Chart 2, Note * 45Chart 2, Note * 44Chart 2, Note * 62

Aboriginal people rate police performance lower than non-Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people living in the territories were less likely to state that police were doing a good job at any of the six measures when compared to non-Aboriginal residents (Table 1; Chart 3). In particular, Aboriginal people were considerably less likely than non-Aboriginal people to believe police were doing a good job enforcing the laws (43% compared to 59%) and promptly responding to calls (41% compared to 58%).  This is consistent with trends among Aboriginal people living in the provinces, who were overall less likely than non-Aboriginal people to have positive perceptions of police, but particularly for those specific measures (Cotter 2015).

Chart 3 Perception of police performance, by Aboriginal identity, 2014

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Aboriginal identity (appearing as row headers), Being approachable and easy to talk to, Ensuring safety of citizens, Treating people fairly, Enforcing the laws, Promptly responding to calls and Providing information on ways to prevent crime, calculated using percent who stated police are doing a good job
units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Aboriginal identity Being approachable and easy to talk to Ensuring safety of citizens Treating people fairly Enforcing the laws Promptly responding to calls Providing information on ways to prevent crime
percent who stated police are doing a good job
AboriginalChart 3, Note : Reference category 62 57 51 43 41 42
Non-Aboriginal 75Chart 3, Note * 65Chart 3, Note * 59Chart 3, Note * 59Chart 3, Note * 58Chart 3, Note * 50Chart 3, Note *

Higher education associated with more positive perceptions of some aspects of police performance

For some measures, level of education was associated with more positive perceptions. Residents of the territories who had completed a university degree were more likely than those who had completed high school or less to believe that police were doing a good job being approachable and easy to talk to, enforcing the laws, and promptly responding to calls (Table 1). That said, education had no impact on perceptions for the other three performance measures.

While older residents of the territories were somewhat more likely to believe police were doing a good job being approachable, treating people fairly, and enforcing the laws, there was little difference in perceptions when looking at different age groups in the territories (Table 1). More specifically, there were no differences between age groups in the proportion of residents who stated police were doing a good job ensuring the safety of citizens or promptly responding to calls. Similarly, there were no gender differences in perceptions of police among residents of the territories. This was not the case in the provinces, where women were more likely than men to state that police were doing a good job for five of the six measures of performance.

Residents who believe neighbourhood crime has increased rate police lower

Though law enforcement and responding to criminal incidents are only one part of what police do on a day-to-day basis (Boyce 2015; Hutchins 2015), perceptions of police are associated with perceptions of neighbourhood crime. Generally, residents of the territories were less likely to state that police were doing a good job if they believed that crime in their neighbourhood had increased compared to five years ago (Table 2, Chart 4). Differing perceptions of neighbourhood crime were not associated with changes in the proportion who believed police were doing a good job being approachable.

Chart 4 Perception of police performance, by perception of neighbourhood crime in past 5 years, 2014

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Perception of neighbourhood crime (appearing as row headers), Being approachable and easy to talk to, Ensuring safety of citizens, Treating people fairly, Enforcing the laws, Promptly responding to calls and Providing information on ways to prevent crime, calculated using percent who stated police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Perception of neighbourhood crime Being approachable and easy to talk to Ensuring safety of citizens Treating people fairly Enforcing the laws Promptly responding to calls Providing information on ways to prevent crime
percent who stated police are doing a good job
IncreasedChart 4, Note : Reference category 61 46 43 40 34 33
Decreased 68 61Chart 4, Note * 58Chart 4, Note * 53 44 50Chart 4, Note *
About the same 69Chart 4, Note * 64Chart 4, Note * 57Chart 4, Note * 52Chart 4, Note * 52Chart 4, Note * 48Chart 4, Note *

Victims of self-reported crime rate police performance lower

Residents of the territories who reported being the victim of crime in the past 12 months were less likely to state that police were doing a good job for all six measures (Table 2). While the proportion who believed police were doing a good job being approachable was seven percentage points higher for non-victims compared to victims (70% compared to 63%), the difference was considerably larger for the proportion of those who believed police were doing a good job ensuring the safety of citizens (65% of non-victims compared to 49% of victims) and promptly responding to calls (54% compared to 36%).

Aboriginal identity, self-reported victimization main predictors of negative perception of police

When socio-economic and demographic characteristics are held constant, two factors remain significant predictors of perception of police for residents of the territories. Regression analysis shows that, other factors being equal, the two main predictors of a more negative perception of police in the territories are Aboriginal identity and self-reported victimization (Table 3). Aboriginal people and those who were the victim of a crime in the previous 12 months rate police performance lower than non-Aboriginal people and non-victims. This was the case for each of the six measures of police performance.

While these factors remained significant, other factors which were related to perceptions of police did not remain significant when others were controlled. For example, while visible minorities and immigrants were more likely to state police were doing a good job, when other characteristics are held equal, the relationship is not significant.

Summary

On the whole, the large majority of residents of the territories believed police were doing a good or average job. Although about one in five stated police were doing a poor job promptly responding to calls and providing information on crime prevention, about six in ten believed police were doing a good job being approachable and easy to talk to and ensuring the safety of citizens.

Perceptions of police performance did not vary across the territories. The sole exception was the proportion of residents who stated police were doing a good job promptly responding to calls, which was higher in Yukon than in the Northwest Territories or Nunavut. Generally, residents of the territories rated police performance less favourably than residents of the provinces.

While a number of factors were associated with perceptions of police performance, when individual characteristics were held constant, Aboriginal identity and self-reported victimization remained significant predictors. Aboriginal people were less likely to state that police were doing a good job for all six performance measures, when other factors were held constant. Similarly, when other factors were equal, residents of the territories who reported being a victim of crime in the past 12 months were less likely to have positive perceptions of police performance.

Data sources

This report is based on data from the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization, conducted in the territories. The target population consisted of persons aged 15 and older living in Canada’s three territories, excluding people living full-time in institutions. The number of respondents was 2,040 in 2014. A separate survey was also carried out in the provinces in 2014.

For more information on the data source, please consult the following documents: 2014 GSS

In this report, missing responses have been excluded from the denominator. For this reason, some results may differ slightly from those presented in other reports and in CANSIM.

References

Boyce, J. 2015. Police-reported crime statistics, 2014. Juristat. Catalogue no. 85-002-X. Accessed July 22 2015.

Cotter, A. 2015. Public confidence in Canadian institutions. Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey. Catalogue no. 89-652-X.

Hutchins, H. 2015. Police resources in Canada, 2014. Juristat. Catalogue no. 85-002-X. Accessed July 22 2015.

Jang, H., Lee, J., & Gibbs, J.C. 2015. The influence of the national government on confidence in the police: A focus on corruption. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 1-16.

Perreault, S. & Hotton Mahony, T. 2012. Criminal victimization in the territories, 2009. Juristat. Catalogue no. 85-002-X. Accessed February 3 2016.

Roberts, J.V. 2007. Public confidence in criminal justice in Canada: A comparative and contextual analysis. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 49(2), 153+.

Skogan, W.G. 2006. Asymmetry in the impact of encounters with police. Policing and Society, 16(2), 99-126.

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