Amid a nation-rocking law enforcement count, Milwaukee residents by nearly 2-1 give the city’s police department low marks, new poll from Suffolk University / USA Network says TODAY.
The survey, the first in a series in major American cities, explores attitudes towards law enforcement at a critical time. Cell phone footage of George Floyd killed last spring by a Minneapolis police officer, and a series of other videos showing murderous police action against black Americans, have fueled outrage and upheaval across the country.
In Milwaukee, a third of those polled (35%) say the city police do an excellent or good job, but 61% rate their performance as fair or poor. Concerns about policing practices transcend racial lines, but the assessment among black residents is particularly harsh: only 1% say the department is doing a “great” job.
“Who are they going to serve and who are they going to protect? Jason Brooks, 39, asked skeptically. A black man who was interviewed after being called into the poll, he said he was the victim of racial profiling by the Milwaukee police. “I have been stopped several times for what they considered to be a suspicious walk,” said the professional wrestler. “Like, I don’t know how you tread with suspicion.
The poll shows, however, that the opinions of the police are complicated. An overwhelming majority of residents say the problem is “some bad apples” about the force, not the systemic racism of most officers. There is 2-1 opposition to “defining the police,” a slogan adopted by some in the Black Lives Matter movement. But most of those interviewed also support the idea of diverting some funding from the police to mental health and other social services.
The debate on issues of race, security and citizenship is also part of this week’s commemorations of Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of people who had been enslaved in the United States.
After:“A Public Lynching”: Bernice King, Cory Booker, Julian Castro and More Americans Reflect on George Floyd
“Hope this is a point of change,” Beverly DeWeese, 88, a retired Caucasian teacher, said in a follow-up interview after taking part in the survey. A resident of Milwaukee for six decades, she said she has been increasingly aware of institutional racism in recent years. The trial of the former police officer convicted of Floyd’s murder “may have triggered people’s concerns about fairness,” she said. “Now if this is going to continue, we will have to see.”
The poll of 500 adults, conducted this month in conjunction with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the first in an occasional series planned by the Suffolk University Political Research Center and the USA TODAY Network. The project, called CityView, explores the attitudes of residents of large urban areas across the country.
Milwaukee’s population of about 590,000 is diverse: 44% white, 39% black, 19% Hispanic, according to the US Census Bureau. Four percent are Asian and another 4% identify as two or more races.
But housing in the city is among the most segregated in the country. This fact has contributed to strong racial disparities in income, home ownership, education and criminal victimization.
Crime, controversy and no permanent boss
The law enforcement debates that have engulfed cities from New York to Los Angeles are also shaking Milwaukee.
Wisconsin’s largest city police department does not have a permanent chief. Violent crime has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic; Last year, homicides surpassed all-time highs of the 1990s. The city’s civilian watchdog, responsible for hiring the chief and disciplining cops, has been embroiled in controversy.
Last month, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a settlement for a police misconduct lawsuit filed by NBA star Sterling Brown, who in 2018 was thrown to the ground and crushed by police confronting him with a parking violation. . Last year, a Milwaukee police officer was charged with manslaughter, charged with putting a man in a fatal strangulation while off duty. He resigned from the force.
Over the past year, some changes have been made. The department’s use of force policy was tightened and strangling was banned. A formal community policing policy, advocated for years by local activists, has been adopted.
But the survey results underscore the lingering distrust of law enforcement by many Milwaukee residents and the challenges ahead in rebuilding trust.
“What is the cause of the discontent, and I think it can go in two distinct directions,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in an interview. “On the one hand, the cause could be the way people are treated by the police and the fact that they are not happy with it. The second cause could be that there is too much crime in their neighborhoods and that they are unhappy that the police did not eliminate the crime.
He also said it was important for city police to live in Milwaukee, a requirement that was scrapped by state lawmakers in 2013. “It’s no surprise that there is such a disconnect if you have a majority of the department that doesn’t live in the city, ”he said.
A quarter of white residents and a third of black residents say a police officer arrested them while investigating a crime. A majority of all races say they are satisfied with the way the police handled the situation, but black residents were twice as likely as whites to describe themselves as “not at all satisfied” with the way the situation was. managed – 23% versus 10%.
“There was a time when I got pulled over right outside my house,” said A. Jackson, 57, who is black. “He asked me where I was going. I said, ‘Nowhere. I live here. “Jackson, who retired from running an investigative company, laughed at the incident but added,” These kinds of encounters will deteriorate your relationship with the police department. “
Most of those interviewed say they have called for help from the police at some point. Eight in ten people said they were satisfied with the way the police handled their call, with only modest racial differences.
But having a positive personal interaction with the police did not elicit a better overall strength rating. Even a useful meeting with an individual agent is apparently not sufficient to counterbalance an overall negative view of law enforcement, presumably forged by media coverage and the experiences of family, friends and other members of the law enforcement community. community.
Do the police follow their own rules?
The people of Milwaukee are not convinced that the police follow their own rules.
- From 45% to 40%, respondents believe that the police use force when it is not necessary. While white residents are also divided on this issue, black residents by a ratio of almost 2-1 (56% to 29%) say police sometimes use excessive force.
- From 54% to 35%, respondents believe that the police stop and search people even when they have no good reason. The margin among whites was narrow (48% to 41%); among blacks it widened to over 3-1 (69% to 20%).
The Milwaukee Police Department’s stop and search practices have been the source of friction for years, especially with communities of color. In 2018, the city settled a lawsuit against the ACLU that alleged a racist motive, but a court-appointed monitor found little had changed since.
“The policies behind the Milwaukee Police Department, I say, are racist because that’s how they were designed,” said Jackson, who has lived in Milwaukee since the age of 7. “They were like that when I was a teenager; they are currently the same now.”
The poll, conducted by landline and mobile from June 3-6, has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Among the subgroups, the margin of error is 6.9 points for white respondents, 7.6 points for black respondents, and 10.6 points for Hispanic respondents.
Despite their concerns, residents of all racial lines recognize that they rely on the police.
“A deeper dive shows some hope for Milwaukee and its police department,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Policy Research Center. “Despite trust issues and skepticism, 70% of Black Milwaukee residents feel safe in their neighborhood, 76% would seek help from the police if needed, and 92% say they would provide information to the police. police if they witnessed a crime. ”
With a ratio of nearly 2-1 (57% vs. 29%), respondents oppose the idea of “funding the police,” a slogan that can mean different things to different people. By an even wider margin (62% to 13%), residents say they would feel safer with more police officers at work in their neighborhood, not with fewer.
However, a majority (55%) support the idea of cutting some police funding and using the money for social services such as helping the homeless and the mentally ill.
After:Tishaura Jones wants to reinvent the police in Saint-Louis. With the increase in crime and the desire to “define”, can it do so?
“I would certainly be in favor of taking a lot of the money that goes into the mill, arming the police with military-type weapons and using it to help psychological people who are facing health problems. mental, ”said Tom Mulroy, 72. a freelance writer who is white. “Low level and mental health issues are things that should be addressed without the use of a gun.”
Perhaps the most encouraging finding for the Milwaukee Police Department is this: 63% of those surveyed, including a majority of all races, agree with the statement that the Milwaukee Police deal generally people of different races fairly even if there are a few “bad apples” on the force.
In contrast, 29%, including 36% of black residents, agree that the Milwaukee police are racist in the way they treat people, even though some of them are trying to do good. job.
Jason Brooks is not sure what will happen next.
“I have two feelings about it, and there’s an ending that says, ‘It’s been happening forever,'” he said, despite calls for change. But he wondered if the prevalence of cellphones and their cameras now made a difference. He mentioned Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, all black men whose deaths have sparked nationwide protests.
“Then there’s a part of me that says, ‘It was a big deal. People see it,'” he said. “The world is just able to see it at last.”