Public opinions on the topic of law enforcement and their controversial methods are sure to be as intense as they are wide ranging. To learn more, we gathered tweets about America’s peace officers and analyzed them to investigate public sentiment regarding our police force, as well as the polarizing topics of drugs and alcohol.
Several factors related to law enforcement have driven both an increase in Twitter activity as well as a growing negativity. With more high-profile encounters serving as leading stories across news media recently, the number of opinions expressed by people on social media has exploded. Although many newsworthy police incidents are racially charged, drug- and alcohol-related encounters impact sentiment as well; interactions between those addicted to substances and law enforcement are especially volatile.
Using a series of keywords that commonly represent the law enforcement community, we gathered 766,319 relevant tweets. We were able to assign each a rank on a scale ranging from highly negative to highly positive with the Alchemy API. With this information, we determined the sentiment of a randomly chosen subset of these tweets. Furthermore, GPS data collected from each respective tweet made it possible to segment the results by state.
Sentiment by State
Representing the data with an academic grading scale allows us to illustrate a simple-to-understand map showing how Twitter users in each state feel about law enforcement. The results paint a not-so-flattering picture of the state of public and police relations in our nation. With an overall grade of D, the data shows a glaring disconnect between the public and those who have been elected to serve and protect.
It’s important to remember, however, that one’s perception of police relations and the actual effectiveness of law enforcement are two completely different things. If you’re breaking the law and encounter the police, it’s almost certain that your opinion of what happens next will be negative. In addition, over 11% of crimes are victimless, such as drug possession or DUI where there is no injury to a third party. Because these crimes have no victim left to praise the police work, it further skews police sentiment to the negative. The end result is that the more effective police are at their work, the wider the gap becomes between the number of perpetrators and victims, thus ensuring a negative sentiment toward law enforcement overall.
While there were plenty of positive tweets, there simply weren’t enough to result in an overall positive sentiment for any state. As such, we assigned each state a letter grade with A representing states with the least negative overall sentiment, all the way down to F for states with the most negative sentiment. Even after accounting for the overwhelmingly negative sentiment, a whopping 37.25% of states still earned a failing grade. The most negative views were tweeted by Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Virginia, and Georgia.
Sentiment by City
When the sentiment is analyzed at a city level, the results are strikingly similar. None of the cities showed a positive attitude toward law enforcement, and when represented on a grade scale, the predominant score is an F. The remarkably low score of Ferguson, MO, shows the localized impact on expressed sentiment during and after times of significant tensions between police and the surrounding population
The most recent national arrest data show that alcohol-related incidents make up more than 18% of all arrests in the U.S. These numbers correlate with increased negative sentiment expressed toward police officers when they’re mentioned alongside alcohol-related terms. The lowest sentiment scores for alcohol-related police tweets were 36% more negative than the corresponding tweets not mentioning alcohol.
In 2012, there were more than 1.5 million drug abuse violations resulting in arrest. Possession charges accounted for 82% of these violations. This represents more arrests than rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, arson, fraud, embezzlement, weapons, and prostitution combined. Sentiment on this topic is also quite negative as indicated in the chart below.
Possession and use of illegal drugs are known as victimless crimes. And though these offenses may not involve a victim per se, they are nonetheless illegal and states still criminalize them. Yet according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers represent a significant cost savings by way of reduced incarceration and victimization costs.
Though many view it as a victimless crime, drug abuse exacts costs not only to society as a whole, but to the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans. Court mandated substance abuse treatment has no doubt helped to minimize some of these costs, but one needn’t wait until this point to receive assistance – if you are one of the many struggling with the issues of drug and/or alcohol abuse, and would like information about your recovery options, call .
As of July 1, 2015, marijuana has been legalized in four states (Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska) as well as the District of Columbia. While it’s still not completely legal in other states, most have some sort of provision allowing the use of medical marijuana and/or non-psychoactive derivatives such as cannabis oil. Many states hover somewhere between legal and illegal status, opting to simply decriminalize recreational use. In such places, the possession of limited quantities of cannabis for personal use will result in a fine but no criminal charges. There are, however, still serious limitations, exceptions, and stipulations in every state – not simply those with a prohibition against marijuana.
The apprehension of most states against legalizing the recreational use of marijuana likely results from the negative social, psychological, and physical impairments associated with its use. Marijuana users often report lower self-esteem and energy levels, financial troubles, trouble sleeping, and memory issues. Adolescents who use marijuana are at a greater risk of contracting STDs, dropping out of school, and/or becoming pregnant. Most marijuana users perceive themselves unable to stop and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try.
In the foreseeable future, many states will continue to debate the issue of marijuana legalization, and the impact that it may have on law enforcement resources, as well as any effects it may have on the rates of use in the general public. Whether or not marijuana use constitutes a crime, or even a problematic activity as a recreational ‘vice’, there is no doubt a certain portion of the population for which marijuana progresses to a point that can negatively impacts lives. For those people, and for anyone who needs it, treatment is indeed a viable option – call to find out more about substance abuse treatment programs including those that promote marijuana recovery.
The stream of tweets mentioning drugs or alcohol alongside law enforcement terms reveals a tremendous amount of negative sentiment. News reports, threats, and opinions abound – all revolving around drug abuse and the attention it brings from the police.
Hey I am watching COPS, when is the part they protect innocent civilians all I see them bust people for weed and tiny bits of crack
— Just Evan (@tallguyatlarge) May 2, 2015
More Americans are killed by cops in one year than the whole history of weed . Marinate on that .
— SUPA MAN (@Supatothedupa) May 2, 2015
AZ: Yuba City #CriminalCop #HarminderPhagura & his cousin charged in cocaine trafficking ring http://t.co/x4n35AIq6i #CopsDealDrugs #CopsLie — miserablecitytv (@miserablecitytv) May 3, 2015
@artistofideas @Markomaralaw cops r thugs creating the chaos the failed war on drugs is responsible for 90% of violent crimes — paul collins (@noturbone) May 2, 2015
Drugs being dealt outside our house and what do the Police do? Erm, Nothing. :(
— Jane Abbie Worrallo (@JWorrallo) April 19, 2015
The overall results of the analysis are undeniable. The majority of thoughts, opinions, and views expressed by the tweeting public in reference to law enforcement are quite negative. The magnitude of the expressed sentiment is amplified with the introduction of high-impact topics such as drugs and alcohol. Yet much of the negativity emanates from those who are in clear violation of the law, a behavior that can only lead to a negative experience with law enforcement. The ramifications of drug and alcohol abuse can be devastating to all parties involved, including the friends and family of those affected by the addiction. Legal troubles, financial stress, and health issues are just a few of the very real consequences of substance abuse. Treatment and recovery are the best ways to minimize these unfavorable outcomes to ensure a healthy and productive life. It goes without saying that the best way to avoid an inevitably negative encounter with the police is to minimize situations that would be scrutinized by law enforcement to begin with. For those experiencing substance dependency, this is easier said than done though, as the compulsion to continue using is very real. Thankfully, there is help for those who find themselves struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Call us today at to speak with a confidential treatment support advisor about recovery options that will address your specific situation.
We analyzed 766,319 U.S.-based tweets from January 1 to May 4, 2015 and looked at the sentiment values associated with law enforcement terms such as “police” and “cop.” Using the scores from the data collected, we determined the national average and used it as our grading scale. We also considered how often drugs, alcohol, and marijuana were mentioned to determine which states talk about law enforcement in regards to marijuana, drugs, and alcohol the most.
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