Public Confidence in Police at Record Low: Gallup

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Police at a NYC protest on June 1. Photo by Andrea Cipriano/TCR.

Public confidence in the police is at a record low, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

Over the past year, trust in law enforcement fell from 53 percent to 48 percent – a steep decline in its own right but also the first time this figure has fallen below majority level since 1993.

A full 33 percent of those surveyed said they have “some” confidence in law enforcement, while 17 percent said they have “very little.”

Trust in law enforcement was as high as 64 percent in 2004 and 63 percent in 2005.

Trust in the police differed across racial lines.

Just 19 percent of Black respondents said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in police. That figure for white respondents reached majority level at 56 percent, according to a CNN analysis of the Gallup poll.

This five-point decline follows the officer-involved killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, as well as the summer’s nationwide protests against police brutality, systemic racism, and racial injustice.

Among key institutions in the U.S., law enforcement received the fourth-highest support from the public.

Institutions that ranked higher included small businesses at 75 percent, the military at 72 percent, and the medical system at 51 percent.

As support for the police declined, public trust in the medical system and public schools – institutions that have been particularly tested by the COVID-19 outbreak – increased.

Confidence in the medical system increased by a striking 15 points in the past year, while confidence in public schools increased by 12 points to 41 percent.

The Gallup poll is one of many that suggest Americans’ perceptions of policing are undergoing unprecedented change.

A survey conducted by Gallup in July found that 58 percent of Americans believed “major changes” were needed to improve policing.

For example, 96 percent of respondents supported changing management practices to increase police accountability, and 82 percent supported community-based alternatives such as violence intervention.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed advocated for the elimination of police unions, while 47 percent believed that funding for police departments should be diverted to social programs and services.

However, abolishing police departments, a proposal that has received increasing attention of late, proved too extreme for participants. Only 15 percent supported the idea.

A Pew Research Center poll in July also illustrated Americans’ calls for policing reform.

A full 66 percent of respondents said that civilians should have the power to sue individual police officers to hold them accountable for misconduct and/or excessive use of force.

Likewise, from September 2016 to June 2020, a declining proportion of Americans gave positive ratings for police’s appropriate use of force, treating racial and ethnic groups equally, and holding officers accountable.

Like in the July Gallup poll, the Pew poll found little public support for defunding the police.

In fact, 31 percent of respondents said that funding for police should be increased.

On the policy level, creating a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct, giving civilian oversight boards the power to investigate and discipline individual officers, and banning chokeholds and strangleholds received overwhelming support from participants.

Editor’s Note: For additional information on already underway reforms to the criminal justice system, please see The Crime Report’s “Reforming the System” resource page.

See also: “Americans Want Policing Reform But Reject Abolition: Gallup Poll” by Nancy Bilyeau, The Crime Report, July 22, 2020

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern. 

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