Should a Cop Ever Hit Someone?

Should a Cop Ever Hit Someone?

That may sound like a silly question. Of course there are times police officers need to use force -- to defend themselves, to stop others from getting hurt, to effect arrests. But as the Associated Press reports, in the 2014 General Social Survey, only 70 percent of whites, 42 percent of blacks, and 38 percent of Hispanics said they could even "imagine" a situation in which an officer should strike an adult male.

As it happens, the GSS has been asking this question for decades now. Here's how the responses have changed; there's been an uptick in "no" answers, but not as much of one as you might expect:

What's funny is that the numbers shift dramatically when the question specifies that the citizen is physically attacking the officer. Apparently this is outside the realm of what a substantial proportion of the population can imagine (chart starts at '76 because the question wasn't asked of everyone before that):

I'm not sure there are any deep lessons about policing here, but this does serve as a warning to those relying on survey questions that ask people to invent their own scenarios. Evidently Americans are not very imaginative.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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