What The Public Thinks About Police Reform And Defunding


Per Gallup, “Most Americans Say Policing Needs Major Changes.”

Every day brings more protests and endless videos of riots, looting, arson, graffiti, and assaults on civilians and police officers.

If the American public believes that they are threatened by violence, then all bets are off.  We may find that opinion shifts wildly back and forth depending on the latest series of videos.


Part of a series of articles to understand society’s reactions to police shootings, use of force, and to seek solutions. I will “try” to see both sides of the issue knowing that neither will see my critiques favorably.


What’s below are short summations of public opinion regarding American policing.

There are endless emotional debates as to changes in law enforcement after the death of George Floyd and the riots-protests. Regardless of your opinions, the country is changing and those interested in policing need to understand public sentiment.

Public support for law enforcement has always been very strong regardless of who is polled. Police officers are more highly rated than most professions. Eighty-five percent of Americans either have a great deal or some confidence in law enforcement, Public Confidence in The Police. Sentiment will return to former levels. It always does.

A Question Of Public Safety

The most basic job of government is public safety. In the minds of many, safety is now compromised.

Crime control is of the utmost importance in the minds of most Americans. There is a history of “liberal” leadership calling for more arrests. Joe Biden (and endless others) strongly supported aggressive law enforcement and incarceration in the past. Per the former Vice President, “Give me the crime issue … and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.”

This sentiment is now occupying center stage. It’s interesting that the Trump campaign is spending gobs of money on television and social media ads playing off the public’s fear of violent crime, riots, and defunding discussions.

There are thousands of videos with millions of views showing riots, looting, fires, and police officers (and individual citizens) being assaulted. Crime is exploding in a variety of cities experiencing protests. This is on top of data from multiple sources (including the US Department of Justice) suggesting that violence has increased considerably since 2015, Crime In America.

I assume that the Trump campaign’s internal polling suggests that the American public is more impacted by what they see than many polling companies admit.

Endless ads for security systems and products are now part of our daily lives. Gun sales are going through the roof. There are multiple media reports of people moving out of cities because they are afraid of crime and COVID.

Via media reports, it’s well documented that police officers are leaving the job; family members are insisting that they get out, and get out now. Recruitment is down 63 percent. Retention is becoming difficult. Are we now Running Out Of Cops?

Due to intense criticism, cops are holding back (not being proactive) in a multitude of cities and violence is increasing, Arrests And Increasing Violence. Police officers are calling in sick in Atlanta and cities throughout the country. A DC police union survey says 71 percent of those polled are considering leaving, FOX DC.

Regardless, People Want Change

Regardless, those interested in American policing need to fully comprehend that the public wants change. Police supporters also need to acknowledge that this is an opportunity (i.e., never let a good crisis go to waste). Policing in America currently means being all things to all people and considering the number of officers suffering from PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, bad relationships and suicides, we have to reject impossible burdens. Cops can’t be responsible for everything.

Change is inevitable. Law enforcement is going to be different. Given that, need to understand the dynamics.

No, the vast majority of Americans are not asking for defunding, but they do want fairness and equal treatment.

Before Floyd, Public Opinion Was Mostly Positive

An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contacts, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Having said this, it’s inevitable that out of 40 million yearly encounters, some will go bad. It’s a statistical reality. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics study, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts.

Even in fragile communities (i.e., high unemployment), a study finds that 74% of fragile-community residents vs. 87% of Americans overall think people like themselves are treated “very fairly” or “fairly” by their local police. The results vary by racial group: Black (65%) and Hispanic (72%) residents of fragile communities are considerably less likely than white residents (87%) to say people like themselves are treated fairly by police, Gallup.

Public Opinion Polls

What follows are brief summations of public opinion polls regarding law enforcement conducted after the death of George Floyd:

Defunding The Police

Most Americans agree that police should undergo major changes but do not support abolishing police departments nationwide, according to a Gallup poll, which found that just 15 percent of Americans support getting rid of the police, Gallup.

Every poll I’ve seen indicates similar results, the great majority do not want law enforcement agencies defunded.

“Grassroots activists and younger Democrats who have spoken with BuzzFeed News this week say they’ve been disappointed in party leaders — including Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Black Congressional leaders including Rep. Jim Clyburn and CBC Chair Karen Bass — as they’ve watched them swiftly turn away from those conversations, emphatically rejecting the idea of defunding police as they face immediate attacks from Republicans,” BuzFeed.

The nation’s black mayors have devised a Peace Pact for Community Centered Policing, the Washington Post reports. The plan by the African American Mayors Association, does not favor defunding the police.

Criminality And Protests

About six-in-ten U.S. adults say some people taking advantage of the situation to engage in criminal behavior has also been a major contributing factor in the protests. There are wide partisan gaps in these views. While roughly eight-in-ten Republicans and those who lean Republican say people taking advantage to engage in criminal behavior has been a major factor, only about four-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners agree. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say protesters have been motivated by longstanding concerns about the treatment of black people, Pew.

Support For Tough Anti-Crime Measures Falls 

From The Crime Report:  The U.S. median age is 38, which means less than half the population has a clear memory of life in 1991, when the violent crime rate reached its post-1970 peak of nearly 750 per 100,000 people. The rate is roughly half that today. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), though, is nearly 80, so he had an answer ready when New Yorker editor David Remnick suggested to him that Joe Biden’s support for a punitive 1994 crime bill might count against the former vice president’s campaign amid a movement for criminal justice reform, writes Washington Post columnist Charles Lane. Clyburn told Remnick that “black folks almost ran me out of the room” when he opposed mandatory minimum sentences while campaigning in 1992. At the time, 83 percent of Americans felt the system was “not tough enough” on crime, according to Gallup.

Since 1994, Americans have grown less hawkish on law enforcement: support for “tough” measures has fallen to levels not seen in almost 50 years, according to an index of “punitive sentiment” by political scientist Mark Ramirez of Arizona State University. For several years, public opinion has been receptive to new approaches based less on policing and incarceration, and more on social services and rehabilitation. In 2016, only 45 percent of Americans considered crime policy “not tough enough,” according to Gallup. Public support for harsh measures rose with violent crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s, then came down as the violent crime rate declined over the past quarter-century.

Changes in Law Enforcement

From The Crime Report:  Polling from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy shows a majority of voters support 10 key policies proposed by competing House and Senate bills that Congress failed to advance last month. With the 2020 election bearing down, lawmakers are not expected to revisit the issue this fall, but a strong national consensus could create a blueprint for congressional action in the years ahead.

The in-depth national survey of more than 3,000 registered voters included a “policymaking simulation,” in which participants were briefed on the policy options before being asked to evaluate arguments for and against the proposals and make a final recommendation.

Nearly 90 percent of respondents supported body cameras, including 85 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats. Eighty-two percent of respondents supported the duty to intervene (71 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats), and 81 percent favored a national registry of police misconduct (70 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats).

At least 8 in 10 Democrats supported every proposal surveyed, and a majority of Republicans backed six of them, including a ban on chokeholds and other neck restraints (55 percent), implicit racial bias training (53 percent) and a policy to hire an independent prosecutor to investigate or charge a law enforcement officer for using deadly force (52 percent).

The remaining proposals, which at least 6 in 10 registered voters supported, are de-escalation and use of force as a last resort (69 percent); banning no-knock warrants (65 percent); requiring law enforcement agencies to get approval from local government before requesting military equipment (64 percent); and amending qualified immunity (63 percent), Politico.

Two-Thirds Support BLM

The Black Lives Matter movement, which is back in the headlines amid the nationwide protests, receives wide support. Two-thirds of U.S. adults say they support the movement, with 38% saying they strongly support it. This sentiment is particularly strong among black Americans, although majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%) and Asian (75%) Americans express at least some support, Pew.

Black Americans Stopped

The survey also finds that 45% of black Americans say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity. Smaller shares of Hispanic (19%), Asian (16%) and white (9%) Americans say this has happened to them. Black men (64%) are far more likely than black women (32%) to say they have been unfairly stopped by police. Still, black women are more likely than white or Hispanic women to say they’ve had this experience, Pew.

Confidence in Law Enforcement Shaken

From The Crime Report: A majority of Americans support Black Lives Matter and a record 69 percent say black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system. The public opposes calls to shift some police funding to social services, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds. The findings underscore the mixed fallout after the killing of George Floyd. There is increased public scrutiny of police treatment of Blacks, but less unity on broader questions. Stark divisions exist between different racial groups and among varied political identities.

Confidence in police appears shaken after a wave of national protests. Compared with 2014, fewer Americans say they are confident that police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force. More people say recent police killings of Black people are “a sign of broader problems” in police conduct.

The share of Americans saying that Blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system has risen by 15 percentage points from 2014. This year marks the first time a majority of whites has held this view. When compared with 2014, around the time of the killings of African Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, larger shares of virtually every demographic group and every age group now say that minorities do not receive treatment equal to white people in the criminal justice system. The share of white Democrats who say Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system rose 19 points to 89 percent. White Republicans inched up seven points to 36 percent.


Law enforcement is taking the public relations beating of a lifetime. Some of it is deserved, most of it isn’t. Cops are the good (not perfect) guys. For those making instant decisions under unbelievably stressful circumstances, the vast majority do well.

Most officers believe that they have done nothing wrong in the administration of justice and polling data before the death of George Floyd supports this contention.

Per USDOJ research, out of 40 million yearly contacts, only two percent involve force or the threat of force. Public opinion polls show a remarkable amount of respect and approval regardless of race and political affiliation before George Floyd.

But Gallup‘s headline is “Most Americans Say Policing Needs ‘Major Changes.”  If you read the report (not summarized above) it provides a precise roadmap as to the level of support for various initiatives.

There are a variety of strategies that police officers could support to make their jobs safer and more productive. For example, forcing cops to enforce Coronavirus provisions is counterproductive and harmful to the profession. There are many additional concerns, see What Cops Support.

But things are rapidly changing and the dynamics are endless. Every day brings more protests and endless videos of riots, looting, arson, graffiti, and assaults on civilians and police officers.

The most fundamental right of Americans is public safety. If the American public believes that they and their families are being threatened, then all bets are off.  We may find that polling opinion shifts wildly back and forth depending on the latest series of YouTube and Facebook videos.

Regardless, most continue to believe that American policing needs to be fair and administered equally. We within the justice system need to embrace whatever changes are necessary to accomplish that goal.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed (https://crimeinamerica.net/?feed=rss2) provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications, and other announcements from the site.


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