Posted on July 27, 2021

Poll Finds Detroit Residents Far More Worried About Public Safety Than Police Reform

Susan Page et al., USA Today, July 25, 2021

Amid a jump in violent crime in this and other cities nationwide, Detroit residents report being much more worried about public safety than about police misconduct, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University/Detroit Free Press Poll finds.

By an overwhelming 9-1, they would feel safer with more cops on the street, not fewer. Though one-third complain that Detroit police use force when it isn’t necessary – and Black men report high rates of racial profiling – those surveyed reject by 3-1 the slogan of some progressives to “defund the police.”


In Detroit, 1 in 5 residents (19%) cited public safety as the biggest issue facing the city, second only to education, named by 23%. On a list of eight concerns, police reform ranked last, at 4%.

The poll found a significant racial divide on the question. Black residents ranked crime at the top of their list of concerns: 24% cited public safety, and just 3% named police reform.

But white residents were a bit more concerned about police reform than public safety, 12% compared with 10%. Education was by far the biggest issue on their minds, named by 31%.

“I think the Detroit police are representative of most if not all police organizations in the United States, in which they structurally contain behaviors that encourage racism and white supremacy,” said Justin Fenwick, 35, a real estate agent. “It’s hard to look at a police department and say they’re doing a good job.”


There was a striking contrast in the interactions with police reported by Black men and Black women.

Black men were twice as likely as Black women to report having been stopped and questioned by police investigating crimes, 38% compared with 17%. What’s more, Black men were twice as likely as Black women to say they weren’t satisfied with how police handled the encounter, 46% compared with 20%.

{snip} At times, some of those surveyed said they had seen racial profiling in the approach police took toward them personally and toward their neighborhoods in general.

Among Black men and Black women, half said they were treated differently because of their race, and most agreed their treatment was worse. But while nine of the 208 Black women polled said they were treated better because of their race, not one of the 155 Black men surveyed said they had been treated better.


Race relations were cited by just 5% as the leading issue facing Detroit, which has the highest proportion of Black residents of any large American city. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 78.3% of Detroit’s population of 670,000 people were African American, 14.7% white, and 1.8% two or more races.

In comparison, race relations ranked near the top of concerns in the CityView poll in Milwaukee, which has a population that is 44% white, 39% Black and 4% two or more races.

In Detroit, those surveyed found news accounts depicting police misconduct and racism across the country credible. By 2-1, 64%-26%, they didn’t believe the news media were exaggerating those stories. That is at odds with higher levels of skepticism nationwide. In a USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll this month, a plurality, 46%-34%, said they believed the stories were exaggerated.


Detroit residents gave middling grades to the city’s police department. Seven percent called its performance excellent, 33% good, 43% fair and 15% poor. That means a 58% majority rated local law enforcement as mediocre or worse.

But they also rely on the police. Eight in 10 would be likely to ask a police officer for help if they needed it. Even more, 87%, would be likely to provide information to the police about a crime they had witnessed.

When it comes to equitable treatment of different races, they gave the Detroit Police Department high marks.

More than three-fourths of those surveyed, 77%, agreed with a statement that the Detroit police “generally do a good job and treat people fairly, even if there are a few bad apples on the force.”

Only 16% said the police are “racist in the way they treat people, even if some of them try to do a good job.”


{snip}While property crime declined, Detroit recorded 327 criminal homicides in 2020, up 19% from 2019, and 1,173 nonfatal shootings, up a stunning 53%. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other major cities reported similar spikes.


By 65%-23%, those surveyed don’t support the slogan “defund the police.” They divide 49%-42% in support for the idea of cutting some funding from the police and using the money for social services – for instance, to help the homeless and the mentally ill.