Recent Polls on Policing Show Positive Trends for U.S. Law Enforcement

by | June 26, 2024

Public perceptions of police in America are constantly changing. Opinions tend to go down after a much-publicized case involving perceived police misconduct. Over time, though, public views on policing generally improve as individuals recognize the critical need for law enforcement in their communities. Recent polls on policing in America indicate people’s trust in police is on the rise.

Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll on Policing

A Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll released by Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies, The Harris Poll and HarrisX suggests public perceptions of police as an institution have recently changed for the better. This comes after several years of worsening opinions.

According to the Harvard-Harris May report, which surveyed the opinions of 1,660 registered voters across the nation, 75% of respondents indicated a favorable view of the police. This contrasts with the 67% favorable view from polls in April 2023 and April 2022, which was down from 72% in the survey conducted in April 2021.

Breaking things down further, survey respondents indicated the following attitudes regarding police in America:

While the “very favorable” rating from May 2024 has not rebounded back to the level seen in April 2021, the substantial increase among “favorable” respondents was enough to boost overall positive views of police.

Of the institutions mentioned in the May 2024 poll, only the U.S. military scored higher than the police in favorability. The FBI came in third, with a 57% overall favorable rating and 33% unfavorable rating. Social media platform Facebook was in fourth place, with a 55% favorable and 34% unfavorable rating.

Interestingly, when asked to name the most important issues to them as potential voters, “crime and drugs” (17%) was the number four concern among survey respondents, after “price increases/inflation” (35%), “immigration” (32%) and “economy and jobs” (23%). Far fewer respondents cited “criminal justice” (5%) and “policing” (4%) as a top voter issue.

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Comparison to Pew Research on Policing

This data partially mirrors the trend seen in the Pew American Trends Panel online survey, which asked, “How much confidence, if any, do you have in the police to act in the best interests of the public?” In the December 2018 poll, 30% and 48% of respondents indicated “a great deal of confidence” and “a fair amount of confidence” respectively, for a total favorable rating of 78%. By December 2021, those numbers were at 20% and 49%, for an overall 69% favorable rating.

Pew has apparently not updated this survey since 2021, so we don’t have comparable data for 2024. But the recent Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll mentioned above suggests overall confidence in American police agencies has grown substantially since 2021.

Another interesting insight comes from a survey by the Gallup Center on Black Voices, which suggests (unsurprisingly) that people’s attitudes about policing are directly impacted by their actual personal interactions with police officers.

Overall, the news here is good. “Despite what news reports may suggest, most Americans report that their dealings with police are relatively pleasant. Overall, 77% of Americans say that their most recent interaction with a member of their local police force was a positive experience, 85% say they were treated fairly, and 84% say they were treated with respect.”

When asked about interactions with the police over the past 12 months, 90% of white adults said they were treated fairly and 89% indicated they were treated with respect. Among some minority groups, though, the numbers are worse. On the question of fairness, 71% of Black adults and 79% of Hispanic adults indicated their prior year interactions seemed fair. In addition, 75% of Blacks and 70% of Hispanics said they felt their treatment in police encounters was respectful.

In a separate June 2024 survey from Pew, respondents were asked to rate the importance of various policing priorities, and the results were unsurprising:

Keeping communities safe:

  • Extremely/very important: 95%
  • Somewhat important: 4%
  • Not too/not at all important: 1%

Treating people of all racial and ethnic groups equally:

  • Extremely/very important: 92%
  • Somewhat important: 6%
  • Not too/not at all important: 2%

Maintaining public respect for police officers:

  • Extremely/very important: 78%
  • Somewhat important: 15%
  • Not too/not at all important: 6%

Protecting the rights of people suspected of crimes:

  • Extremely/very important: 65%
  • Somewhat important: 25%
  • Not too/not at all important: 9%

It’s clear that public safety remains a top priority for Americans, with equal treatment for all being a close second. Curiously, Pew also notes that “n 23 of 27 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least 60% of U.S. adults have said there is more crime nationally than there was the year before, despite the downward trend in crime rates during most of that period.” In fact, in every survey conducted by Gallup since the 1990s, respondents were more likely to believe crime rates had risen more nationally than in the area in which they lived.

Of the institutions mentioned in the May 2024 poll, only the U.S. military scored higher than the police in favorability.

Good Policies and Good Policing

Changes to law enforcement policies, which have been profoundly influenced by police reform initiatives, have positively impacted public perceptions of the police in America by fostering greater transparency, accountability and community engagement. Reforms efforts such as revised restraint procedures, de-escalation training and community policing strategies have increased public trust by demonstrating a commitment to ethical conduct and reducing instances of misconduct.

Police reform initiatives emphasize the importance of protecting civil rights and ensuring fair treatment for all citizens, which helps bridge the gap between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Also, many agencies have implemented community outreach programs—such as Lexipol’s Connecting Youth & Communities with Law Enforcement (CYCLE) training—to build (or rebuild) relationships with the people they serve. As a result, it’s likely these reforms have contributed to a more positive and cooperative relationship between the police and the public.

Youth Outreach Training for Law Enforcement GET STARTED NOW

It’s critically important for agencies to keep their policies up to date with reform legislation to ensure policies reflect the latest best practices in community engagement and transparency. If you’re unsure about whether your agency’s policies meet community expectations, contact us to learn more about our law enforcement policy solutions.

Polls and Methodology

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, taken monthly by The Harris Poll and HarrisX, surveys more than 2,000 registered voters across the United States. This poll aims to represent a national sample by weighting demographics such as age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment and education.

The American Trends Panel (ATP) by Pew Research Center is a nationally representative online survey panel of over 10,000 U.S. adults. It enables efficient data collection over time, provides detailed demographic insights, and addresses sampling biases through annual recruitment and rigorous weighting processes to maintain representativeness and data quality.

The Gallup Center on Black Voices is an initiative focused on amplifying the experiences and perspectives of Black Americans through comprehensive research and data collection. The Center conducts extensive surveys and studies to gather nuanced information, ensuring that the voices of Black individuals are accurately represented and informing policies that promote equity and social justice.

Lexipol provides public safety and local government with solutions that combine the impact of information with the power of technology. We serve more than 2 million first responders and local government officials with policies, training, wellness resources, grant assistance, and news and analysis.

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