Half of Americans Support “Major Changes” to Police Forces
As we pass the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, police reform is again in the news. While calls to defund the police may have quieted, an April 24-May 17 Gallup poll found 50% of Americans believe “major changes,” 39% “minor changes,” and 11% “no changes” are “needed to make policing better.”
Black adults were more likely to support major changes (72%) than Hispanic (54%) or white (44%) adults. White adults almost evenly thought major (44%) or minor changes (43%) were needed, and supported minor changes more than Hispanic (36%) or Black (23%) adults. Support for no changes was low among all adults: white (13%), Hispanic (10%), and Black (4%).
Justin McCarthy, journalist and analyst at Gallup, summarized, “Americans remain almost as firm in their belief that policing reform in the U.S. is needed now as they were in June 2020, after Floyd’s murder. Several reform proposals enjoy broad support, such as changes to management practices related to officer abuses.”
Police reform also has some support in the federal government. On May 25, 2022, the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, President Joe Biden signed an executive order reforming federal policing, joined by relatives of Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Because the order is not law, state and local police agencies can opt in, but cannot be required to participate.
The reforms in the order include: restricting no-knock entries/warrants, requiring federal agencies to review and revise policies on use of force, creating a database for officer misconduct reports, restricting surplus military equipment from going to local police departments, studying the impact of facial recognition, other biometric and predictive algorithm technologies, and data storage and access used by police officers, among other reforms.
In coordination, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revised the use of force policy for the first time in 18 years. The policy, which takes effect on July 19, 2022, explicitly requires that officers “to intervene to prevent or stop, as appropriate, any officer from engaging in excessive force or any other use of force that violates the Constitution, other federal laws, or Department policies on the reasonable use of force.” The DOJ recently banned federal police from using chokeholds and carotid restraint maneuvers.
Not everyone on Capitol Hill is on board with the reforms, however. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) summarized the feelings of many Republican lawmakers, “Making it harder for police to do their jobs to the best of their ability should be a non-starter, yet that’s exactly what the Biden plan does. I’m disappointed that the president who campaigned on unity has once again fallen into the trap of divisive politics.”
Others point to the fact that there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies and the rules are not centralized, so federal action may not be the most effective route to reform.
Gallup found broad support for the following reforms:
- “Require officers to have good relations with community” (95% support)
- “Change management practices, so officers with multiple incidents of abuse of power are not allowed to serve” (92% support)
- “Change management practices, so officer abuses are punished” (91%)
- “Change legal practices so that police officers face legal action for abuse of power or unnecessary harm” (81%)
- “Promote community-based alternatives such as violence intervention” (78%)
- “End stop-and-frisk” (68%)
The following reforms found less support:
- “Eliminate officer enforcement of nonviolent crimes” (45%)
- “Eliminate police unions” (44%)
- “Removing military weapons and equipment from police forces” (41%)
- “Reduce the budget of police departments and shift the money to social programs” (35%)
- “Providing only nonlethal weapons to police forces” (32%)
- “Abolish police departments” (15%)
1. Should police departments be defunded, if not abolished? Why or why not?
2. What police reforms, if any, do you support? Explain your answer(s).
3. Should any other police reforms not mentioned above, such as body cameras, be considered? Make a list of options and explain your answer(s).
1. Justin McCarthy, “Americans Remain Steadfast on Policing Reform Needs in 2022,” news.gallup.com, May 27, 2022
2. Josh Boak and Chris Megerian, “Biden Signs Policing Order on Anniversary of Floyd’s Death,” apnews.com, May 26, 2022
3. Tamara Keith, “On 2nd Anniversary of George Floyd’s Death, Biden Signs Police Reform Order,” npr.org, May 26, 2022
4. White House, “Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety,” whitehouse.gov, May 25, 2022
5. Bill Chappell, “DOJ’s New Policy Requires Officers to Stop Others from Using Excessive Force,” npr.org, May 24, 2022
6. James Politi and Stefania Palma, “Biden’s Police Reform Agenda in Limbo Two Years after George Floyd’s Murder,” ft.com, May 29, 2022