Mayors Largely Support Black Lives Matter Protests, Recognize Racial Disparities in Treatment by Police, But Are Not Embracing Dramatic Change to Policing, According to New Survey
In spite of months of protests in reaction to George Floyd’s murder and other instances of police violence, roughly four in ten of America’s mayors do not believe police violence is an issue in their cities, according to this year’s Menino Survey of Mayors, the only national representative survey of America’s mayors conducted annually by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities.
Despite this, mayors largely recognize racial disparities in the way police treat their constituents. Two-thirds (68%) believe that Black people are treated worse by police compared with white people; however, there is a large partisan gap with 73% of Republican mayors believing that police treat white and Black people equally, compared with only 14% of Democrats. Despite mayoral concern about racial inequality in police treatment, 80% of mayors believe that their police departments do a good job of attracting individuals well suited to being police officers.
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Mayors also largely supported last summer’s protests; just over two-thirds (69%) believe the protests against police violence were forces of positive change in their cities. But they are mixed when asked whether Black people mistrust the police; less than half (44%) believe that Black residents distrust the police—a number that persists across party lines.
“We all witnessed a national reckoning of racial injustice during the summer of 2020. Thousands took to the streets to address the trauma of police brutality and to demand change,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “We must acknowledge government’s history and role in perpetuating these injustices and work with our communities to make plans and policies that address disparities—in criminal justice, health, education, housing, and economic opportunity—caused by systemic racism.”
When it comes to calls by many activists to “defund the police,” a majority (56%) of mayors are open to reallocating at least “a few” police resources and responsibilities to other parts of city government—including social services agencies—though only 5% support reallocating “many.” One in three mayors do not see a need to reallocate any resources and responsibilities. Additionally, mayors overwhelmingly (80%) believe their police budgets last year were “about right.” When asked an open-ended question about desired police department reforms, just 16% support bigger structural changes. Instead, many supported a wide variety of smaller reforms to their police departments, including increasing diversity on their police forces and civilian review boards.