Survey Finds Many Latinos Reluctant To Contact Police

By Jude Joffe-Block
May 08, 2013

PHOENIX -- A new survey found that many Latinos are fearful about calling the police. The survey questioned more than 2,000 Latinos in the counties surrounding Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

In a report of the survey findings, author Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago said local and state police's role in immigration enforcement has grown in the past two decades, and the survey aimed to gauge the impact on public perception.

Forty-four percent of Latinos surveyed said they are less likely to contact police if they are the victim of a crime for fear the police will ask about their immigration status, or the status of others they know.

"So I think the big finding here is that increased collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local police is driving a wedge between local police and the communities they are trying to serve," Theodore said.

A number of law enforcement leaders have long warned of this effect, but Theodore said systematic data had been missing on the subject.

Theodore said in the past, most studies have focused on the perceptions of African-Americans and whites to police.

The research team included Policy Link and Lake Researcher Partners.

The responses varied based on immigration status, with 70 percent of unauthorized immigrants responding they were less likely to contact police, compared to 28 percent of U.S.-born Latinos.

Still, Theodore said it is notable that 28 percent of U.S.-born Latinos surveyed said they had a fear of police asking about immigration status of themselves or someone they know.

"These are individuals who, on the face of it, would have very little to lose by contacting the police in terms of an investigation into immigration status," Theodore said. "Yet they too — many of them — are saying they have a growing mistrust of the police."

The survey captured a mixed response to the question, "I feel less safe because local law enforcement is involved in immigration enforcement," with two thirds of U.S.-born Latinos disagreeing with the statement, compared to two thirds of unauthorized immigrants who agreed.

Originally, Theodore said he expected the survey to show much higher withdrawal from police among Latinos in Maricopa County, Arizona, where there is a history of state and local police involvement in immigration enforcement, and where those efforts have been highly publicized.

While the results showed respondents to be slightly more mistrustful of law enforcement in Maricopa County, the responses were more consistent among the counties than Theodore expected.

"In the end we didn't find such large differences," Theodore said. "The findings really said the main story here is the high level of social isolation and mistrust."

Theodore will be presenting his findings to lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill on May 8.