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Local poll shows need to raise level of confidence in police among African Americans

Asked to rate local law enforcement on five specific issues, fewer than half of African Americans polled on behalf of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission gave an overall positive rating on four of them.

The countywide poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. According to the  Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, the overall results show strong support and respect for local law enforcement throughout Shelby County while at the same time reflecting a need to raise the level of confidence in police among African Americans.

Key findings:

66% of respondents felt that local law enforcement is doing an excellent or good job enforcing the law, but only 50% of African Americans felt that compared to 82% of white respondents;

57% felt that local police are doing an excellent or good job at being honest and trustworthy, but only 45% of African Americans felt that compared to 71% of whites;

56% felt that local law enforcement does an excellent or good job of protecting people from violent crime, but only 43% of African Americans compared to 70% of white respondents;

52% felt local police do an excellent or good job solving crime, but the percentage drops to 37% among African Americans compared to 68% among whites; and

51% felt that local law enforcement does an excellent or good job of not using excessive force on suspects, but it drops to 36% among African Americans compared to 66% among whites. Asked whether local law enforcement officers use excessive force too often, there was a split, with 46 agreeing (50% of African Americans and 43% of whites) and 46% disagreeing (39% of African Americans and 54% of whites).

The poll was conducted July 26-28 and included 450 registered voters, with 294 being registered voters in Memphis. The ethnic/racial breakdown was 48% white, 46% African American, 5% other, and 1% refused countywide. The breakdown among Memphis respondents was 53% African American, 40% white, 6% other, and 1% refused. (For age and gender breakdowns, see the full report at www.memphiscrime.org.)

Memphis residents in the survey (a total of 294 voters) were asked whether they favored placing a referendum on the November 3 ballot to amend the city charter to allow Memphis police officers (and firefighters) to live outside of Memphis but within a 50-mile radius of the city limits. The results showed that 77% said they supported having a referendum, with 18% opposed. That sentiment crossed all key subgroups, with 74% of African American voters indicating support and 80% of white voters supportive.

Recently, the Memphis City Council voted 7-6 to remove the referendum from the November ballot.

“Respect for local law enforcement and support for more police officers is overwhelming across the board among various subgroups polled,”  said Bill Gibbons, president of the Crime Commission.

“At the same time, there is a feeling – especially among African American respondents – that there is room for improvement, ranging from reducing violent crime to reducing unnecessary use of force.”

The Crime Commission spearheads development of the local Safe Community Plan and develops key outcome indicators for each part of the plan. One key goal is strengthening community involvement in crime prevention efforts and improving community relations with law enforcement. A key outcome indicator for that goal, according to the commission,  is the level of community satisfaction with law enforcement.

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