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Most Americans Say Policing Needs 'Major Changes'
Politics

Most Americans Say Policing Needs 'Major Changes'

Most Americans Say Policing Needs 'Major Changes'

Story Highlights

  • 58% of Americans say policing needs major changes; 6% say none are needed
  • Almost all support increased focus on accountability, community relations
  • About half support reducing police funding, with large gaps by race, political party

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the wake of widespread protests sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a majority of Americans (58%) say major changes are needed to make policing better. An additional 36% say minor changes are needed, while 6% say no changes are needed. There are substantial differences by demographic groups. Almost nine in 10 Black Americans (88%) say major changes are needed, compared with 63% of Hispanic Americans and 51% of White Americans.

Americans' Views of the Need for Changes in Policing
Which of the following best describes your view about changes that may or may not need to be made to policing in the United States?
Major changes needed Minor changes needed No changes needed
% % %
All Americans 58 36 6
Black Americans 88 10 2
Asian Americans 82 17 2
Hispanic Americans 63 33 4
White Americans 51 42 7
Democrats 89 10 1
Independents 60 36 4
Republicans 14 72 14
18-34 81 16 3
35-49 61 33 7
50-64 43 50 8
65+ 46 47 7
Gallup Panel, June 23-July 6, 2020

Political party affiliation is also a significant predictor of Americans' likelihood to say major changes are needed. About nine in 10 Democrats (89%) respond this way, versus 14% of Republicans, with political independents in between at 60%. Most Republicans, 72%, say minor changes are needed.

Finally, younger Americans are most likely to say major changes are necessary. Eight in 10 adults younger than 35 give this response, compared with six in 10 adults aged 35 to 49 and less than half of those aged 50 and older.

Reform Proposals Have Varying Levels of Public Support

In the weeks after Floyd's death, several U.S. cities, including New York, Denver and Minneapolis, announced a variety of reforms, from banning chokeholds and "no-knock" warrants to diverting funds from police departments to youth development or social service programs -- or even (in the case of Minneapolis) disbanding the police force altogether.

The Gallup Center on Black Voices recently asked Americans whether they strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose each of nine proposed approaches to solving the problem of police misconduct. The results can be divided into ideas that have broad support across demographic groups, those that have little support and those for which support is highly dependent on Americans' race, age and political affiliation. For reference, the tables at the end of this article list the percentage within each demographic group who strongly or somewhat support each idea.

Ideas With Broad Public Support

  • Requiring officers to have good relations with the community. This idea meets with little controversy, as almost all Americans (97%) support it overall, including 77% who strongly support it. Since the 1980s, some cities have adopted community policing techniques as a way to foster trust and positive relations with community members. Such techniques emphasize police officers' visibility in the community and proactive partnerships with community organizations. Black Americans are somewhat more likely to strongly support this requirement, at 83%, than are White (76%) or Hispanic Americans (77%).

  • Changing management practices so officer abuses are punished. Establishing greater accountability for officer misconduct within police departments also has broad public approval. Ninety-six percent of Americans support changing management practices so officer abuses are punished, with 76% saying they strongly support the idea. Nine in 10 Black Americans (91%) strongly support such a change, versus eight in 10 Hispanic Americans (80%) and just over seven in 10 White Americans (72%).

  • Changing management practices so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are not allowed to serve. Again, almost all Americans (98%) support this idea at least somewhat. Eighty-three percent strongly support it, including 92% of Black Americans, 87% of Hispanic Americans and 81% of White Americans.

  • Promoting community-based alternatives such as violence intervention. Some of those who advocate rethinking the role of police call for greater reliance on other community organizations, such as family services and programs that intervene with young people who are at high risk for violent crime (for example, Massachusetts' Safe and Successful Youth Initiative). Eighty-two percent of Americans overall support a greater role for community organizations, with 50% saying they strongly support it. Most likely to strongly support the idea are Black Americans (73%), Democrats (75%) and adults aged 18 to 34 (65%).

Ideas With Little Public Support

  • Abolishing police departments. This is the most extreme proposal in response to police misconduct: disbanding police departments in favor of different public safety models. The Minneapolis City Council voted in June to go this route, saying the problems that contributed to George Floyd's death are too deeply ingrained to reform the existing department. For most Americans, the idea of abolishing the police goes too far: 15% overall say they support it, with Black Americans (22%) and Hispanic Americans (20%) somewhat more likely than White Americans (12%) to do so. Almost no Republicans (1%) support the idea, versus 27% of Democrats and 12% of independents. However, there is also a sharp distinction between younger and older adults on this question; one-third of those younger than 35 (33%) support the idea, compared with 16% of those aged 35 to 49 and 4% of those aged 50 and older.

Ideas With Mixed Public Support

  • Ending "stop and frisk." In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice of stopping and frisking people without probable cause is not unconstitutional if an officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, or may be armed. Stop-and-frisk policies have long been controversial from a racial justice perspective; in 2013, a federal district court found that it had become a "policy of indirect racial profiling" in New York City, and in 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio scaled back its practice in the city. However, stop and frisk remains legal in the U.S. as long as racial or ethnic characteristics do not factor into officers' decision to stop people. Overall, 74% of Americans support the idea of ending stop-and-frisk policing altogether, with 58% saying they strongly support it. Though Black Americans are most likely to strongly or somewhat support ending stop and frisk at 93%, strong majorities of Hispanic (76%) and White Americans (70%) do as well. However, there is a much larger partisan divide; 94% of Democrats versus 44% of Republicans support ending the practice, with independents in between at 76%.

  • Eliminating police unions. In recent years, some who advocate police reform have accused police unions of blocking efforts to increase officers' accountability for their actions, such as forming independent offices to investigate allegations of misconduct. A majority of Americans, 56%, support eliminating police unions, with results relatively consistent among Black (61%), Hispanic (56%) and White (55%) adults. Despite much higher approval of labor unions in general among Democrats than Republicans, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to favor eliminating police unions (62% vs. 45%, respectively). Political independents fall closer to Democrats, at 57%.

  • Eliminating officer enforcement of nonviolent crimes. This idea is a response to perceived overreaches of so-called "broken windows" policing, which is based on the premise that addressing low-level violations (such as minor traffic violations, sleeping in public or substance possession) is necessary to prevent more serious crimes. Critics say the idea, like stop and frisk, has resulted in aggressive "overpolicing" of minorities -- and some call for eliminating the enforcement of minor offenses. Half of Americans overall (50%) strongly or somewhat support this idea, including majorities of Black (72%) and Hispanic (55%) Americans, compared with 44% of White Americans. As with ending stop and frisk, there is also a huge partisan divide on this proposal; three-fourths of Democrats (75%) and about half of independents (49%) support the idea, but 16% of Republicans do.

  • Reducing police department funding and shifting the money to social programs. Since George Floyd's death, "defund the police" has become a common -- and controversial -- refrain among many Americans who are angry about police brutality. The idea could take many forms; some advocates would use defunding to disband the police altogether, while others would divert some portion of funds from police departments to social services like substance abuse and mental health treatment programs. This ambiguity in what defunding the police actually means may be a factor in Americans' lack of consensus on the idea. Overall, 47% say they support reducing police department budgets and shifting the money to social programs, including 28% who strongly support it. However, 70% of Black Americans strongly or somewhat support reducing police department budgets, versus 49% of Hispanic Americans and 41% of White Americans. Moreover, the partisan divide is wider for this idea than for any other police reform proposal: 5% of Republicans support it, compared with 78% of Democrats and 46% of independents.

Implications

George Floyd's death was a tipping point that elevated the national dialogue about racial injustice in law enforcement and other U.S. institutions. In subsequent weeks, Black Lives Matter protests spread to all 50 states and other countries around the world, books about racism dominated bestseller lists -- and police departments across the U.S. began to reevaluate their own procedures.

But as the ideas discussed above demonstrate, police reform is a complex issue with many possible goals and strategies. Further, like so many issues in American life, those that have to do with law and order have become highly politicized. Local communities may thus face considerable challenges in finding solutions that are both effective and acceptable to their residents.

However, the survey results reported here point to a set of commonly accepted principles -- strengthening positive community relations, establishing greater accountability within police departments, and striking a better balance between the role of police and other community organizations -- that reformers can use as starting points. The Gallup Center on Black Voices will help inform the national conversation on policing by tracking the systemic disparities and various reform proposals shaping the Black experience across the country.

Americans' Support for Policing Reform Options, by Race/Ethnicity
Percentage who "strongly support" or "somewhat support" each reform idea
All Americans Black Americans Asian Americans Hispanic Americans White Americans
% % % % %
Changing management practices so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are not allowed to serve 98 99 98 99 97
Requiring officers to have good relations with the community 97 97 98 96 97
Changing management practices so officer abuses are punished 96 98 99 96 95
Promoting community-based alternatives such as violence intervention 82 94 91 83 80
Ending stop and frisk 74 93 89 76 70
Eliminating police unions 56 61 68 56 55
Eliminating officer enforcement of nonviolent crimes 50 72 72 55 44
Reducing the budgets of police departments and shifting the money to social programs 47 70 80 49 41
Abolishing police departments 15 22 27 20 12
Gallup Panel, June 23-July 6, 2020

Americans' Support for Policing Reform Options, by Political Affiliation
Percentage who "strongly support" or "somewhat support" each reform idea
Republicans Democrats Independents
% % %
Changing management practices so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are not allowed to serve 95 99 98
Requiring officers to have good relations with the community 96 98 98
Changing management practices so officer abuses are punished 91 99 96
Promoting community-based alternatives such as violence intervention 62 97 81
Ending stop and frisk 44 94 76
Eliminating police unions 45 62 57
Eliminating officer enforcement of nonviolent crimes 16 75 49
Reducing the budgets of police departments and shifting the money to social programs 5 78 46
Abolishing police departments 1 27 12
Gallup Panel, June 23-July 6, 2020

Americans' Support for Policing Reform Options, by Age Group
Percentage who "strongly support" or "somewhat support" each reform idea
18-34 35-49 50-64 65+
% % % %
Changing management practices so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are not allowed to serve 98 97 97 98
Requiring officers to have good relations with the community 97 97 97 97
Changing management practices so officer abuses are punished 98 95 95 95
Promoting community-based alternatives such as violence intervention 88 83 77 79
Ending stop and frisk 88 78 63 65
Eliminating police unions 65 58 49 49
Eliminating officer enforcement of nonviolent crimes 68 52 37 40
Reducing the budgets of police departments and shifting the money to social programs 70 50 32 32
Abolishing police departments 33 16 4 4
Gallup Panel, June 23-July 6, 2020

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.


Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/315962/americans-say-policing-needs-major-changes.aspx
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