The concept of eliminating police departments does not enjoy wide support across the United States, according to the survey. Abolishing the police was not a majority opinion held by any group in the poll, including when examined by race, age or political affiliation.
The Gallup survey included more than 36,000 people over the age of 18 who were polled from late June to early July. Abolishing the police had the most — though still not much — support among people younger than 35 (33 percent in favor), Democrats (27 percent) and black Americans (22 percent). White Americans and Republicans were likely to oppose the idea, at 12 and 1 percent in favor, respectively.
If presented as total elimination of police departments, the survey might have missed support for more nuanced calls to dismantle police, said Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “One notion of abolition is the need for discontinuity from the violent and racist past of law enforcement,” he said.
The public more broadly supports other types of changes and showed very strong support for strengthening relationships between officers and the communities they police.
“People realize they need the police” while “looking for the police to be more accountable and transparent,” said Suffolk University professor Brenda Bond-Fortier, an expert in policing practices who was not involved in the survey. Involving young people can improve relations between police and communities, she said. “We want to be thinking about where can kids interact with the police in situations outside of a 911 call — schools, maybe, playgrounds or community events.”
Punishments for abusive or misbehaving officers, as well as banning repeat offenders from the police force, were overwhelmingly popular ideas, the survey found.
Medicine offers an example for this kind of accountability, Bond-Fortier said, as doctors who commit severe malpractice might lose their license to practice. “Policing as an institution could learn a lot from the medical field,” she said.
When asked about the need for what the survey called “major changes” in policing, the majority of Americans expressed support. Some groups endorsed changes at much higher rates than others: 88 percent of black Americans supported major changes to policing, as did 82 percent of Asian Americans, 63 percent of Hispanic Americans and more than half — 51 percent — of white Americans.
The “experiential factor,” meaning “who is experiencing what types of mistreatment by the police,” could explain these differences by race, said researcher Camille Lloyd, who directs the Gallup Center on Black Voices, which launched last week. The poll was its second report.
Differences also appeared by age and political party. Younger people were more likely to support significant police revisions. Democrats, too, showed large support — almost 9 in 10 Democrats agreed with the need for major changes, whereas less than 2 in 10 Republicans did.
“It’s worrisome when public safety becomes a partisan issue,” said Goff, who was concerned that Republican leaders had recently intensified their politicization of police. He said he also was interested in seeing how these responses mapped to the rural vs. urban divide, because departments in small, rural communities operate differently than the thousand-officer agencies in metro areas.
The public showed mixed support for ending police unions, which can be powerful obstacles to police reform. Likewise, there was some appeal (74 percent) to end “stop-and-frisk” policies. Support was split, at 50 percent, for eliminating “broken-windows” policing — a widely criticized theory in which police strictly enforce laws against minor crimes in an effort to prevent greater ones.
Forty-seven percent of overall respondents said funds should be shifted from police departments to social services. Black Americans were more likely to support reducing police budgets, at 70 percent, compared with 49 percent of Hispanic and 41 percent of white Americans.
The Gallup survey comes on the heels of polls that observed similar trends. A majority of Americans support Black Lives Matter, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday, which found that confidence in the police had crumbled since 2014. Less than half of the people in that survey agreed to move funds from police to other services.
A Pew Research report earlier this month found that more Americans agree with increasing local police spending than lowering it, with 31 percent in favor of increases and 25 percent supporting cuts. The other 42 percent answered that police spending should remain about where it is.