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STATEWIDE POLL | ATTITUDES ON POLICING

Poll finds strong support for police body cameras, sharp differences by race on police violence

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Eighty-five percent of those polled in a recent survey for Wisconsin’s statewide police union believe equipping police with body cameras should be a priority, and 60% of nonwhite respondents called that priority “immediate.”

The annual survey by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association also found sharp differences by race on questions that sought to probe how serious a problem police violence and racism are.

State and federal Department of Justice surveys have found about half of police departments in Wisconsin and nationwide use body cameras. The city of Madison has been considering their adoption for years, and in January, the third and most recent committee to study the issue made a caveat-laden recommendation to adopt the cameras.

The WPPA survey found that on issues of race and policing, nonwhite respondents were more likely to say racism is a “major problem” in society (56% versus 33% of white respondents) and an “extreme problem” in their communities (45% versus 15%).

Forty-six percent of nonwhite respondents also said police violence against Black people in Wisconsin is “extremely serious,” but only 21% of white people said the same. Asked if the deaths of Black and other nonwhite people by police were “isolated incidents” or signs of a “broader problem,” 55% of nonwhite respondents said they were signs of a broader problem, while only 31% of white respondents said the same.

“Since George Floyd’s death nearly a year ago, there have been widespread calls for a broad variety of reforms by policymakers and activists,” WPPA executive director Jim Palmer said in a statement. “We wanted to use this year’s poll to really dig down and attempt to better understand how the public views the officers who serve their communities and the type of policing that people want from their local agencies.”

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Seventy-nine percent strongly or somewhat approve of how “your local police force is handling its job.”
  • A majority of the public (66%) supports spending more money for social programs, but not at the expense of their police department.
  • Eleven percent of minority residents believe that the police spend too much time in their neighborhoods and want to see the number of officers in their community decreased.
  • A majority of the public (59%) supports increasing local taxes to pay for mental health officers, and the same percentage favors new local taxes to pay for body-worn cameras.
  • Seventy-five percent strongly or somewhat favor a law protecting officers from retaliation for reporting “instances of excessive force.”

The survey also found most respondents harbor two widely held myths about police shootings in Wisconsin: that most of those fatally shot by police last year were unarmed and that the majority were Black or members of other nonwhite groups.

Fifty-six percent of respondents, and 35% of nonwhite respondents, believed that most fatal police shooting victims were armed, even though all of those fatally shot by police last year were armed, according to the WPPA. Forty-seven percent of white respondents — and 71% of nonwhite respondents — thought most of those fatally shot by police were nonwhite. In fact, 42% of those shot last year were not white.

Nonwhite people account for about 13% of the population in Wisconsin, according to U.S. Census data. But the rate at which Black people are shot by police roughly corresponds with the rate at which they are arrested for violent crimes. About 44% of those arrested for aggravated assault last year in Wisconsin, for example, were Black, according to state DOJ statistics. Nationally, 209,848 white people and 129,346 Black people were arrested for violent crimes in 2019, according to FBI statistics.

According to the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings, 63 white people and 23 Black people were shot and killed by police in Wisconsin from 2015 to the present. Nationally, those numbers are 2,889 and 1,509, respectively.

Palmer said the survey’s results “confirm that the issues surrounding policing are extraordinarily complex, and it’s clear that Wisconsinites support the interests of both social justice and the officers that keep our streets safe.

“This poll illustrates to us not only what we’re doing right with our approach,” he said, “but more importantly where we need to evolve and grow to regain some of the trust we have lost.”

The survey was conducted by the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute. Respondents were recruited via email, with 1,001 adults completing the online survey between Feb. 11 and March 9. The institute’s analyses were weighted to reflect the state’s demographics for age, race and ethnicity, income, education and gender.


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Democratic lawmakers and Black activists on Thursday blasted the first police reform bills proposed by a task force the Wisconsin Assembly’s top Republican formed last year after a spate of police shootings, saying the measures would accomplish little of substance and that legislators should start over.

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