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Where Americans stand on policing today

Americans overwhelmingly support reforms — but many still trust police.

A protester in a large group of protesters holds a sign that reads, “Defund LAPD.”
People protest the Kentucky grand jury decision in the case of Breonna Taylor’s death by Louisville police.
Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Roughly a year after the start of a national reckoning over police violence and racism toward Black Americans, support for reforms remains strong — as does broad trust in police, according to a new poll from Vox and Data for Progress.

The data comes as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, has prompted renewed discussions about how policing still needs to change.

Per the Vox/Data for Progress survey, conducted between April 2 and 5 of 1,209 likely voters, a majority of voters would like to see lawmakers pass police reforms in Congress that have been stalled for months: Nearly all the key provisions of Democrats’ police reform bill — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — have a majority of voter support, including a federal ban on chokeholds (71 percent), mandated body cameras for federal officers (84 percent), a prohibition of racial profiling (71 percent), and an end to “qualified immunity” for officers in legal cases (59 percent).

Ethan Winter/Data for Progress

These figures are consistent with the support that many of these reforms had in July 2020 as well, according to a survey conducted by the University of Maryland School of Public Policy last summer.

A majority of people also believe law enforcement is racially biased: 52 percent agree that police are more likely to use deadly force on Black Americans than white Americans, though this varies by party and race. Eighty-four percent of Democrats believe this, compared to 45 percent of independents and 24 percent of Republicans. Eighty percent of Black Americans, compared to 61 percent of Latino Americans and 46 percent of white Americans, also agree with this statement.

At the same time, trust in police is still relatively strong: 63 percent of people say most officers can be trusted, comparable to the 70 percent who said the same in a June 2020 Data for Progress poll, though it varies significantly across party, race, and age lines. Only 48 percent of Democrats say police can be trusted compared to 78 percent of Republicans; meanwhile, 32 percent of Black Americans and 38 percent of Latino Americans say the same, compared to 72 percent of white Americans. Younger people, too, are much less likely to trust police: Just 30 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say they trust police, compared to 73 percent of those who are 45 and older.

The results of the survey indicate that the backing for police reforms hasn’t wavered since last year — which could put pressure on lawmakers to get something done this term — though they also reveal that policing as an institution still has a lot of residual trust, especially among white Americans.

Most people back reallocating some police funding for mental health services

In addition to support for federal reforms, most voters appear to back changes that could happen at the local level, where many policing decisions are made. “Out of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the US, a dozen or so are federal,” Vox’s German Lopez has previously explained. “It’s at the local and state level, then, where reforms can and should happen.”

Many activists are pushing for more sweeping changes than those covered in congressional legislation thus far, including the “defunding of police,” which is essentially the reallocation of resources from law enforcement to other social services. A majority of voters surveyed favor some reallocation: 63 percent agree that some funding should be shifted from police departments to establish a new agency of first responders who focus on mental health and addiction-related needs, including 83 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans.

Already, some cities across the US, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Austin, have begun to reduce their annual police budgets, moving part of this funding to help provide everything from mental health assistance to emergency medical services, in response to activist pressure. According to this poll, efforts like these have strong public support — echoing findings from a 2020 PerryUndem poll covered by Vox’s Anna North, which found that backing for such changes varied depending on how they were surveyed.

The results in the Data for Progress/Vox survey differ, however, from a March 2021 poll by USA Today/Ipsos, which found that 18 percent of people supported the “defund the police” movement when asked explicitly about it, and 43 percent of people supported redirecting police funding to social services.

The Data for Progress poll asked respondents about another policing issue in the news: Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. Most respondents say he should be found guilty for his role in George Floyd’s death: 68 percent of people feel this way, including 91 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, and 46 percent of Republicans.

Policing will continue to be a focus of attention in the coming months: Chauvin’s trial will span a few weeks before the jury returns a verdict, and Congress is slated to consider police reform once more as well. Then there is the anniversary of Floyd’s death in May, during which Americans may reflect on how far the county has truly come since last year’s massive social justice movement began.

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