State Policy Network
Opinions about local law enforcement and the desire for reforms
As states consider how to address policy brutality and strengthen justice for all, the following data offers valuable insight on what the public thinks about law enforcement and potential reforms.

The most recent examples of police brutality that resulted in the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have focused national attention on the need for reforms that ensure equal and accountable justice for all citizens while maintaining law and order.

While the coronavirus pandemic remains the number one issue in the country, people are paying attention to the news around the protests for racial justice, with 61% saying they are following the news at least daily. Eighty-one percent believe we need to continue making changes to treat Blacks equally to Whites.

During this time of upheaval and change, State Policy Network has been working with Heart + Mind Strategies to track and understand Americans’ opinions and concerns. This understanding can guide state and local leaders toward community-driven solutions for our nation’s current and most pressing problems. As states consider how to address policy brutality and strengthen justice for all, the following data offers valuable insight on what the public thinks about law enforcement and potential reforms.

Trust in local law enforcement

Americans are divided when it comes to their trust in local law enforcement. Only 34% say they have complete or a great deal of trust in local law enforcement. Thirty-three percent say they have no trust at all or a little trust in local law enforcement. The remaining 33% are in the middle—they trust somewhat.

Trust also appears to break down over political lines. Republicans are more likely (49%) than Democrats (25%) to trust the police, and distrust is highest among Democrats (41%) compared to 19% for Republicans.

Americans between the ages of 18-24 (44%) and 25-34 (45%) are more likely to say they don’t trust law enforcement. The same goes for people of color with 42% of Hispanics, 47% of African Americans, and 42% of Asians saying they have less trust.

Urban America (40%) feels the strongest distrust compared to 33% of trust law enforcement. Suburban (34%) and rural voters feel (38%) more trust than distrust for the police.

Interestingly, those who are less likely to trust the government with their personal health information are also less likely to trust the police (41%). The converse also holds true: Those who trust the government are also more trusting of the police (57%).  

Law enforcement favorability

According to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll from June 20, the public still generally regard police favorably (60% favorable versus 32% unfavorable rating).

The Heart + Mind Strategies poll indicates that the recent protests and demonstrations have not done much damage to support for local law enforcement. Forty percent say these events have not changed their opinion, and 25% say it has made them more positive. One in three say recent events have engendered less support for local law enforcement.

However, that same support doesn’t hold for police unions. Only 16% of respondents to the poll on June 10-11 said recent protests and demonstrations had a positive impact on their support for police unions. Forty-four percent said it made them more negative. Note that, despite being typically friendly toward unions, 62% of Democrats say they feel more negative toward police unions after recent events.

Support for reforms

With the Overton Window open for justice reforms, there is a range of policies and programs available that could help address the issue. There is particularly strong support across the board for programs and policies that involve training on racial discrimination and state-level oversight.

African-Americans are more likely to favor policies that authorize state attorneys general to investigate and hold accountable law enforcement (78%), require training on racial discrimination (77%), and end stop-and-frisk policies (74%). They also support corporate America when companies and brands take action against social and racial injustice (76%) and  encourage and support individual learning and growth on racial discrimination and related topics (74%).

Which reforms do Americans expect to have the greatest potential to solve injustice and inequality? They prioritize training (32%), state attorneys general oversight (24%), modifying police union contracts (24%), ending qualified immunity (24%), and greater integration between law enforcement and mental health (24%).

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle can reach a consensus on the following reforms, which have strong support from both parties: training (66% Rs, 84% Ds), state attorneys general oversight (67% Rs, 81% Ds), and greater integration between law enforcement and mental health (63% Rs, 80% Ds).

Reforms ending qualified immunity and civil asset forfeiture are more popular with Democrats than Republicans. Republicans expect training to have the biggest impact (38%), while Democrats see the end of stop-and-frisk as the most impactful single reform.

The past several weeks have demonstrated that, despite how far we have come as a nation, Americans think racism is a big problem in society today (67%) and that it has played out particularly in our criminal justice system. Many believe the system favors Whites (67%) and that police are more likely to use force against Blacks (57%). These recent tragedies and injustices bolster arguments for popular reforms.

Resource: COVID-19 Weekly Tracking Poll

Data from field dates of June 10-11, 2020.

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About this research

State Policy Network is working with Heart + Mind Strategies to track the American public through this time of upheaval and change. The Heart + Mind Strategies’ Coronavirus Tracking Poll has been fielded weekly since March 18-19. In June, the polling schedule shifted to bi-weekly with the most recent field dates of June 10-11 informing this article.