From the Hidden Common Ground Project: New Research on Police Reform and Racism in the US

Blog Category: 

  • America Amplified
  • Kettering Foundation
  • National Issues Forums

As part of the Hidden Common Ground initiative with the National Issues Forums network, Public Agenda, USA TODAY and Ipsos released a new poll today showing that 55 percent of Americans feel that law enforcement in the US needs at least major changes and 76 percent think racial bias against Black Americans is a serious problem.

The findings on police reform, and others in the poll, are reflected in conversations among people nationwide in deliberative forums held by the NIF network in 2017. In states from New York to Kansas and Florida, people in nearly 200 forums using the NIF issue guide “Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence?” pointed to “something fundamentally wrong” with the culture, training and recruitment in many police departments.

According to a report on those forums by the Kettering Foundation and NIF, “The 2017 forums revealed profound and widespread concerns over the role of law enforcement. These forums suggest that today’s outcry over unjust policing is deep-seated and has been building among Americans of all backgrounds. It is not a passing reaction to recent news, and it is likely to remain potent over time.”

In their poll, Public Agenda and Ipsos found many Americans support a range of actions for reforming law enforcement.

“There is significant common ground across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups on several measures to reduce police use of excessive force against Black Americans,” Public Agenda and Ipsos said in releasing the results, “including increasing transparency and data collection, de-escalation and anti-bias training, recruiting more Black officers, and community policing.”

The Public Agenda/Ipsos poll also found that:

* Most Americans (58 percent) believe racial bias by law enforcement officers toward Black Americans is a serious problem in their community.
* 64 percent of Americans feel police officers found to have used excessive force should be taken off duty or fired.
* There is widespread support (63 percent) for focusing police officer’s duties on investigating serious or violent crime rather than misdemeanors or deterrence, and 57 perent of Americans support sending social workers and paramedics instead of police for calls involving mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues.
* Americans strongly support (89 percent) community policing, described as “police officers working closely with communities to understand their concerns and to find ways to protect public safety together.”
* The question of what to do about police department budgets reveals deep uncertainty among Americans: Almost equal numbers felt money should be diverted from police budgets to increase social services (35 percent) and that police budgets should be increased to provide more training and handle everything they’re asked to do (34 percent). But 17 percent said budgets should stay the same and 14 percent said they don’t know what to do.

The new poll, available in full from the Public Agenda website, is also being covered in depth by USA TODAY.

In 2020, NIF will release an updated issue advisory on safety and policing that will offer options for action at the community and national level. NIF will also offer guides on rebuilding the economy and voting. All are designed to prompt deliberation and to help participants consider directions for addressing shared problems.

The Kettering/NIF report on the 2017 NIF forums is available to read or download here