Story at a glance

  • New national data indicates a strong broad sentiment for some type of police reform.
  • Community-based solutions are among the most popular, whereas a small portion of Americans support defunding police.

As people across the country — in cities from Portland, Ore., to Washington, D.C., — protest police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree there needs to be some police reform in the U.S. 

In a new poll, almost all — 94 percent— of the 36,000 respondents said some change is needed to improve policing. Within that majority, most respondents — 58 percent — say that “major changes” need to happen. The remaining 36 percent say at least “minor changes” are needed, while 6 percent of those polled say no changes are needed. 

The Gallup Panel poll, released Wednesday, was conducted from June 23 to July 6, providing a snapshot of the ongoing nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. 

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Sentiments around modern policing vary based on racial demographics. Gallup finds that 88 percent of Black American respondents feel that policing needs major reform, while 51 percent of their white counterparts feel the same.

Asian and Hispanic Americans poll higher than white Americans as well, with 82 percent and 63 percent, respectively, believing police department procedures should change. 

As is typical with national sentiment polls, results are also split along party lines. The majority of Democrats — 89 percent — say that major change is required for police units in the U.S., with a minuscule one percent stating that no change is needed.

Alternatively, just 14 percent of Republican respondents feel that major reforms are needed among police squads. At the same time, though, a majority 72 percent of right-leaning respondents also say that at least minor changes should be implemented in police departments across the country.

Demonstrators and some government officials are advocating for — and in some cases already implementing — changes like cutting police department budgets and reallocating funds to community-building programs. Some are calling for abolishing police as a whole and reallocating those funds, an option that has not gained as much support, with just 15 percent of respondents favoring abolishing police departments as a whole. 

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A higher portion think reallocating government funding from police departments to community investment is a better idea, with 47 percent of all Americans surveyed liking this idea. The two demographics that resonate most with this idea are Black and Asian Americans, showcasing 70 and 80 percent support for it, respectively.

Some options with support across political affiliation and racial demographics include police-community outreach initiatives, changing management and review practices to prevent officers with multiple charges of abuse from serving on their forces and promoting community-based solutions to respond to instances of violence in youth.

The report authors note that while George Floyd’s death, in addition to those of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, have been a moment of reckoning for police in the U.S., police reform is “a complex issue.”

Still, the implications of the data shed light on some important points of consensus and could serve as starting points for discussions.

“The survey results reported here point to a set of commonly accepted principles -- strengthening positive community relations, establishing greater accountability within police departments, and striking a better balance between the role of police and other community organizations -- that reformers can use as starting points,” the report authors conclude.

The data was gathered among a web study completed by 36,463 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older. The margin of error is 1.4 percentage points.

Published on Jul 22, 2020