How do Western European and US perceptions of crime and policing compare?

Beth MannJunior Research Executive
May 13, 2022, 1:43 PM GMT+0

Crime is a universal issue, and each country has its own tailored methods to reduce them. YouGov asked the US public and seven European countries (Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Sweden) their perception of crime levels in their country, how their police deal with it and their personal experiences with the police.

The US public are most likely to think crime has gone up nationally in the last few years (67%), with just 7% thinking it has gone down. Of the European countries we asked, Swedes are the most likely to think crime is on the rise, at a similar 66% (with just 6% thinking it had gone down). This is despite the fact that crime rates have remained relatively stable over the past 10 years.

In contrast, the public in their Scandinavian neighbour Denmark are the least likely to say crime has gone up, with just 32% saying so (and 17% saying it has gone down). Crime levels in Denmark have decreased in recent years and the country is ranked one of the most peaceful countries on the Global Peace Index.

The majority of people in Spain (59%), and around half in France (53%) and Italy (52%), say crime has gone up nationally. Almost half of Britons say the same (47%), with 6% saying gone down and a quarter (24%) being unsure (the largest ‘don’t know’ group across all countries we asked).

Germans are more split between whether crime has gone up (39%) or stayed the same (33%).

Spaniards hold the most positive attitudes towards their police, whereas Swedes and Britons are the most negative

Despite feeling as though levels of crime are going up, two thirds of Spaniards have confidence in their police to deal with crime in their country (67%), and they are also the most likely to think their police are doing a good job (76%). Most of those in Germany (64%), Denmark (60%) and France (57%) also have confidence in their police and think they are doing a good job (72%, 70% and 68% respectively). Italians are more split, with 50% having confidence and 44% not, and 58% saying their police are doing a good job, and 35% saying a bad one.

In the US, each state has their own law enforcement organisation with its own rules and regulations, but despite national unrest over police brutality and violence over the last few years, just over half of Americans still have confidence in their police (54%, with 35% not confident), and two-thirds (63%) say they’re doing a good job.

In Sweden and Britain, however, only 39% and 37% respectively have confidence in the police, with the majority saying they do not (57% and 53% respectively). Despite a lack of confidence, Swedes do have a positive opinion about the overall job their police are doing, with 68% saying they do a good job. Britons on the other hand are less pleased, with 51% saying they are doing a good job, but 38% saying they are performing badly.

Compared with the European countries surveyed, the US public are more likely to have a negative personal experience with the police

Those in the US are most likely to report having been stopped and searched by police, at 17%. Out of the European countries, Spaniards are most likely to have done so (12%), and the Danish public are the least likely (4%).

Around one in ten Americans also report feeling prejudice (12%) and discrimination (10%) from the police and one in seven (14%) have felt threatened by a police officer. Most of these figures are higher when looking at the experiences of Black Americans, with a quarter (24%) having been stopped and searched, one in five (19%) feeling prejudice from the police and 16% feeling discriminated against. Hispanic Americans are also more likely to report feeling prejudice from the police, with one in five (20%) saying so, compared to 9% of White Americans.

Overall, more of the US public have experienced these issues with the police than any European countries surveyed, with between 5-9% experiencing prejudice, 4-5% being discriminated against and between 4-8% feeling threatened by a police officer.

Around one in three people in the US (32%), UK (30%) and Sweden (31%) have reported a crime to the police, and at least one in six have been assisted by the police after experiencing a crime (19%, 14% and 15% respectively).

The French public report the lowest levels of having reported a crime to the police (7%), and the highest level of having not experienced any of the encounters with the police we asked about (66%). In all other countries, at least a third of the population have had at least one experience with their nation’s police, with the US having the most at 62%.

See full results for the UK and Europe here 

See full results for the US here