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Most Americans Support Ending Qualified Immunity for Police, But Support for Defunding the Police Is a Different Story, According to New Survey

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans say civilians should have the power to sue police officers for misconduct and excessive force without those officers being shielded from personal liability, according to the results of a new survey from Pew Charitable Trusts.

However, while public perception of how police treat racial minority groups and use force has soured since Pew’s last policing survey in 2016, most people reported that they did not want local governments to reduce police budgets.

Pew researchers launched the survey in response to protests over police brutality and racial injustice that spread across the globe, and spurred calls for an overhaul of how “public safety” is achieved in America. So far, those calls are being answered with small but important steps toward change — through new efforts to redirect law enforcement funding toward social services, to end qualified immunity, to make space in the 911 system for non-law-enforcement response to crises, and to adopt other initiatives, policy changes, and bills.

Pew surveyed a random sample of 4,708 adults in the U.S. conducted over a week in mid-June. (The survey sample is “weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, and other categories,” according to Pew.)

Holding Police Officers Legally Accountable for Excessive Force and Misconduct

In the U.S., the controversial legal doctrine of qualified immunity protects law enforcement officers from being personally sued for actions that don’t clearly violate established constitutional or statutory rights.

Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said they believed civilians should be able to take individual officers to court for their actions — regardless of whether it made the job of policing more difficult — with support highest among Black and Hispanic residents and Democrats.

Public Less Likely to Approve of Police Performance

Between Pew’s 2016 and 2020 surveys, there were double-digit reductions in the percentage of people who believed that police used the right amount of force in each situation (from 45 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2020), that police treated racial and ethnic groups equally (from 47 percent to 34 percent), and that departments hold officers accountable for misconduct (from 44 to 31 percent).

However, a 58 percent majority (down from 62 percent in 2016), said they believed police provided the public with good or excellent or excellent protection from crime.

In breaking the numbers down, researchers found, perhaps not surprisingly, that Black adults were far more likely to feel that the police treated people disparately, used too much force, and failed to adequately protect people from crime.

Most Americans Say They Don’t Want to Reduce Police Budgets

Yet a 73 percent majority of respondents said they preferred keeping spending for law enforcement either the same (42 percent), or actually increasing such spending — either by a lot of money (11 percent), or a little (20 percent).

Young adults under the age of 30, Black adults, and Democrats were most likely to support reducing police funding. Still, fewer than half of these groups said they supported some form of defunding. People over the age of 50 were far less likely to support redirecting police dollars.

Instead, a majority of all the major groups surveyed said they either strongly or somewhat favored several specific reforms, including databases that track problem officers, requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force, making it a crime for police to use chokeholds, and giving civilian oversight panels the power to investigate officers’ actions and discipline those officers they find to have committed misconduct.

4 Comments

  • Whether the individual officer has QI or not, the real target of litigation will always be the deep pockets of the employing agency – the taxpayers’ money. Ending QI is just another element of the left’s wet dream of imposing a Marxist, dystopian society.

    But remembers that left wingers like the author are always the first ones to call 911 when they feel the least bit intimidated.

    “Sorry, ma’am, we’ve been defunded and won’t put our butts on the line anymore – too much liability. Have a nice day.”

  • Well, at least Taylor did include a sentence explaining that qualified immunity only protects police when their actions do not “clearly” violate constitutional or statutory rights. (The clearly part doesn’t look like a legal term so it was probably Talor’s Attempt to make qualified immunity look as weak as possible.) Notice the question asked in the Pew poll doesn’t make this distinction, it only asks if police should be held responsible for “excessive force or misconduct”. Matching this up with the question of qualified immunity is purposefully misleading. Once again witness la being witness la

    A couple things anti cop politicians are going to learn (probably the hard way). One is that in the end people will always demand police, as the poll does show. The other is that these politicians and indeed the entire government are unequivocally linked to the police. They are essentially the same entity and as much as they would love to pretend otherwise ,there is no way for them to financially abandon the police in civil court. Everyone knows who has the deep pockets and it sure as hell isn’t some street cop.

  • Qualified immunity protects the taxpayer. Police Officer get sued all the time and lose even if they have done everything correctly. Eliminating Qualified Immunity is not for “victims” it’s for trial lawyers to make more money. Qualified Immunity stops frivolous lawsuits.

    • Speaking of lawyers, trial and otherwise, wait until ALADS President Ron Hernandez coughs up the lost money on two long gone retired deputies.

      Their lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank, interesting in hearing Ron’s story about recouping millions spent.

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