Opinion: Reaction to death of Cowlitz County deputy reveals public sentiment about law enforcement

ClarkCountyToday.com, Editor Ken Vance

ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance shares his emotions about the death of Deputy Justin DeRosier and offers some national Gallup Poll data about public confidence in law enforcement

Deputy Justin DeRosier
Deputy Justin DeRosier

Last weekend, Cowlitz County Deputy Justin DeRosier lost his life in the line of duty. His death has greatly impacted residents of Clark County as well as the state and the region.

The 29-year-old DeRosier was a graduate of Kelso High School and Washington State University. He joined the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office just three years ago. He left behind a wife and a 5-month-old daughter, Lily.

On Monday, law enforcement from across Southwest Washington gathered in Vancouver to accompany DeRosier’s body as it was transported to Kelso, where he will be laid to rest. ClarkCountyToday.com photographer/videographer Mike Schultz hustled to capture video of the procession, which you can see here:

As of the time of this writing, the video we posted on Facebook of the procession had reached nearly 43,000 of you, more than any other post we’ve made in the nearly three years since we launched our news website and our social media presence. The story has had a tremendous impact on each of us here at ClarkCountyToday.com and obviously to many of you as well. There’s been such an outpouring of support and interest from members of the public that his Memorial Service has been scheduled for the Chiles Center at the University of Portland:

As we’ve all dealt with the emotional element of this story, Schultz made a comment to the members of our team that I considered to be very insightful. “This gives me hope that supporters of law enforcement far outweigh the naysayers,’’ Schultz said. I couldn’t agree with his sentiment any more than I do.

It also led me to conduct a search of evidence of how the general public truly feels about law enforcement. I found the evidence at hand from recent years to be fairly consistent. The most revealing study I found was a 2018 Gallup poll, published in this piece by the Dolan Consulting Group:


You will see four very revealing graphs, which we will share here. Graph 1 shows Gallup Poll data on public confidence in the police from 1990-2018.

Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group
Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group

You will see that in the last 28 years, public confidence in the police fluctuated from time to time, never falling below 50 percent or higher than 65 percent. The conclusion drawn from this data is that the public has reacted emotionally to individual incidents involving law enforcement such as the Rodney King incident in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the Ferguson unrest in 2014. After those incidents, and the accompanying media coverage, confidence in law enforcement dipped. The rest of the time, it was the public’s general nature to show greater confidence in law enforcement.  

The second graph compared the trend in public confidence in the police with public confidence in public education:

Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group
Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group

Again, the date is from 1990 through the first half of 2018. It shows that public confidence in public education has been below 50 percent since before 1990. It was in the 70-percent range during the late 1960s but started to decline after 1973. I think we can all agree that here in Washington state, public confidence in public education has likely dipped even lower in 2019.

The third graph of Gallup Poll data offered a comparison of public confidence in the police with public confidence in the government, specifically Congress, the president and the Supreme Court.

Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group
Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group

You will see in this graphic that, even at its lowest point, public confidence in the police has been 12 percent higher than public confidence in the Supreme Court or the president (at their best). And, the highest public confidence score Congress has received since 1990 is 35 percent lower than the lowest public confidence score recorded for the police.

The final graphic shows Gallup Poll data comparing public confidence in the television news media and public confidence in the police.

Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group
Gallup Poll data published by Dolan Consulting Group

The graph shows that in 1990 and 1991, the public had similar confidence in law enforcement and the television news media. Since that time, public confidence in the television news media has dropped off sharply, falling from 58 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 1995 and it has never bounced back.

I know that it is a lot of Gallup Poll data to throw at you. Like I said, I found it to be the most revealing and insightful of what I could find. I wish I had similar data that instead of gauging national opinion, measured just those of us in Clark County or the state of Washington. However, I’m confident it would pretty much be a similar revelation. And, that is, our confidence in the police, despite emotional reactions to isolated incidents, is greater than what many would want you to believe and that gives me great comfort.

Rest in peace Deputy DeRosier and God Bless your family and friends.

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