What Does US Public Opinion Say About Police Spending?

Recent surveys have shown that around half of Americans say that they want more spending on police in their area. Read this article to find out the details.

Over the past year or so, police spending here in the US has been a matter of much discussion and differing opinions. In May 2020, the George Floyd and BLM protests saw protesters calling to ‘defund the police’. From the widespread media attention given to these protests, it may have seemed that public opinion in the US was definitively moving away from supporting the police. 

However, the opinions expressed the loudest aren’t always those of the majority: in fact, recent surveys have shown that around half of Americans say that they want more spending on police in their area.

THE PEW RESEARCH CENTER SURVEY

The two surveys were undertaken by the Pew Research Center in July and September of 2021. Over 10,000 Americans participated in each. The surveys were weighted in order to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. The biggest takeaway was that many people would support increased police spending in their area. 47% of all those polled supported an increase in spending, while a further 37% felt that spending should stay around the same. This meant that only 15% of participants actually supported a reduction in police funding.

With almost half of those surveyed supporting an increase to police funding, the number has in fact grown significantly over the past year. In a similar survey conducted by the Pew Research Center one year earlier, 31% percent of those surveyed supported an increase in funding, which means that this number grew by 16% over the past year. The largest growth area was in people who felt that funding should be increased ‘a lot’, from 11% in 2020 to 21% in 2021. Meanwhile, those wanting to defund the police dropped by 11% over the same period.

While overall support for increasing police funding was seen across the board, the level of support varied by race and ethnicity, age and political party. White (49%) and Hispanic (46%) adults were more likely than Black (38%) or Asian (37%) adults to say spending on police in their area should be increased. People aged 50 and older were more likely to support increased spending on police, including 63% of those 65 and older. Young adults remained the biggest proponents of decreased police funding; roughly a third (32%) of those aged 18 to 29 said there should be less spending on police in their area.
 

Police on quad

Political partisanship was also strongly linked with views of police funding. A majority of Republicans (61%) said spending on police should be increased, with 29% saying it should be increased by ‘a lot’. By contrast, 34% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said that police funding should be increased, 25% said it should be decreased, and 40% would like to see it stay about the same.

SUPPORTING SURVEYS

The Pew Research Center poll is not the only one to show this trend towards supporting police funding. An AP-NORC poll found that 53% of Americans opposed reducing funding for law enforcement agencies, 21% neither favored nor opposed it, and only a quarter supported reduced funding. Similarly, a Fox News poll found that 46% of those surveyed opposed “reducing funding for police departments and moving those funds to mental health, housing, and other social services.”

With similar results from these various sources, it is clear that there is both widespread support for police spending, and that this support is growing, rather than shrinking, over time.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR INCREASED SUPPORT

One possible reason for this increased police support is a similar increase in concerns about violent crime. According to the Pew Research Center, “Americans’ changing attitudes about police spending in their area have occurred amid rising public concern about violent crime. In July 2021, 61% of adults said violent crime was a very big problem in the country today, up from 48% in April 2021 and 41% in June 2020.”

And these concerns aren’t unfounded. Statistically, violent crimes and homicides have increased in the US in both 2020 and 2021. In fact, homicides in the US in 2020 increased nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump since the FBI began keeping records. Homicides and non-negligent manslaughters in 2020 climbed to 21,570, an increase of 4,901 incidents compared to 2019. Violent crimes in 2020 similarly went up by 5.6% over the previous year while property crimes continued a nearly two-decade decline, falling by 7.8%.

Bike cop with kid

THE PUBLIC TURN TO THEIR LOCAL POLICE

It is clear, then, that public opinion on police spending is not what has been promoted by some media sources. While a vocal minority of people may still support the notion of decreasing police funding, many more support funding increases or at least maintaining the status quo. It is clear that in the face of rising violent crime statistics, people are turning to the police in their area for protection and support, and are supporting those same police departments in return.

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