Two years after the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer that touched off months of demonstrations against police brutality, a U.S. public opinion survey suggests solid support among Americans for broad reforms to policing.
The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Gallup Center on Black Voices from April 24 to May 17, found 50% of Americans favored “major changes” to policing in the U.S., while 39% said “minor changes” were needed to improve how police do their jobs.
“U.S. adults overall remain steadfast that some reform to policing is needed, whether those are major changes or minor changes with the way we police society,” said Camille Lloyd, director of the Gallup Center on Black Voices in Washington.
The poll included a survey of 4,000 Black Americans and found that 72% of them wanted major changes to policing, compared with 44% of whites and 54% of Hispanics. Half of Black respondents said they were particularly supportive of eliminating policing against nonviolent crimes and reducing the operating budgets of police departments to shift the money toward social programs.
Overall, two-thirds of respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with requiring officers to have good relations with the community. They also favored changing management practices so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are no longer allowed to serve.
Ninety-one percent of Black adults said they supported reforms so that police officers face legal action for abuse of power or unnecessary harm. “We found a common theme in the survey of support for fostering better relations with the police and increased accountability for misuse or abuse of power,” Lloyd told VOA.
The study found Black Americans, like other groups, reported less frequent interactions with police over the last year compared with previous years, but some Black respondents were more likely to describe such interactions as positive compared with what they reported in 2020. The study noted the positive ratings of interactions between African Americans and police still lagged behind the national average for all racial groups.
“I think our research shows Black Americans want safer communities but don’t want to have these negative encounters with the police,” said Lloyd.
The Gallup Center for Black Voices started its surveys in July 2020. The research is designed to gather public opinions on justice issues that can be monitored over time. The organization has committed to a 100-year study.
President Joe Biden has called on police officers to deliver both effective crime deterrence and equal treatment of the public. Efforts by his Democratic administration to win support in Congress for a police reform law named after George Floyd, however, collapsed in the U.S. Senate amid Republican opposition last September. The legislation was introduced in 2020 after several high-profile killings of unarmed Black people.
With police reform legislation stalled in Congress, Biden used his executive powers last month to tighten rules for federal law enforcement agencies, directing them to revise their use-of-force policies. Additionally, the executive order created a national registry of officers fired for misconduct.
The measure also offered grants to the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies to encourage police to restrict the use of chokeholds and neck restraints when detaining individuals – tactics that have been linked to several high-profile fatal encounters between police officers and civilians.
“It’s a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation, to address the profound fear, trauma, exhaustion" that Black Americans in particular "have experienced for generations,” Biden said last month.
The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), representing more than 241,000 law enforcement officers, gave the administration’s executive order mixed reviews. The group expressed support for the fact that the Biden administration didn’t seek to restrict the ability of police officers to protect themselves against lawsuits.
“The executive order does not recommend Congress take action to eliminate qualified immunity for officers, which is of utmost importance as this legal protection for officers is essential,” NAPO said in a statement. Qualified immunity makes it harder to put police officers on trial for using excessive force or for otherwise violating a person’s constitutional rights.
Promoting policing reforms
With a few months remaining before the November midterm elections that will determine which political party controls Congress, civil rights groups are urging the legislature, currently led by Democrats in both houses, to act on police reform legislation.
"I think those of us who want this to happen are going to have to be engaged and continue to pressure members of Congress and members of the United States Senate to support reforms to policing,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
“We are going to have to renew our fight for police reform legislation,” Morial told VOA.
As local and federal efforts seek to curb some police powers, the U.S. Justice Department unveiled a National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab in April.
It’s a resource hub for law enforcement designed to promote constitutionally based policing and build trust in communities. Law enforcement agencies nationwide can use the Knowledge Lab to access material on best practices and training curricula, as well as a roster of constitutional policing experts to provide support and counsel.
“Providing law enforcement with the tools, resources and support they need to do their jobs effectively and fairly makes our communities safer and stronger,” said Vanita Gupta, U.S. associate attorney general.