A Pew Research Center survey – conducted prior to the Jan. 27 release of video showing the violent beating by Memphis police officers of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died three days later – finds that Americans’ views of police conduct had rebounded slightly over the last few years.
The survey, conducted Jan. 18-24 – after Nichols died, but before the video footage was released – shows that on three of four measures of police conduct, public ratings were more positive than in a June 2020 survey, shortly after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. In the latest survey, however, Americans were less likely than in 2020 to say police around the country are doing an excellent or good job protecting people from crime.
Pew Research Center regularly conducts surveys to gauge public confidence in several key institutions in society, including the police. In this survey, we sought to provide insight into how Americans view the conduct of police departments around the country and in their communities. The survey was conducted after the death of Tyre Nichols on Jan. 10, following a brutal beating by five Memphis police officers three days earlier; it was conducted before video of the beating was released on Jan. 27.
For this analysis, we surveyed 5,152 adults from Jan. 18-24, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here are the questions used for the report and its methodology.
The share of U.S. adults who say police are doing an excellent or good job in using the right amount of force in each situation increased 9 percentage points between 2020 and the January 2023 survey, from 35% to 44%. There were comparable increases in the shares of Americans who say police are doing a good job in treating racial and ethnic groups equally (8 points, from 34% to 42%) and in holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs (12 points, from 31% to 43%).
On one item, whether police do an adequate job protecting people from crime, public ratings in late January were lower than in 2020: Just 47% said police are doing an excellent or good job in this area, down from 58% three years ago.
As was the case in 2020, there are wide gaps by race and party in views of police conduct, with White adults more likely than Black adults to express positive views across all four domains.
Similarly, Republicans continue to be more likely than Democrats to give police positive ratings for their conduct. The partisan gap is largest in views of whether police treat racial and ethnic groups equally: 70% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say police across the country do at least a good job of this, while just 18% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the same.
Racial divides about police also persist among Democrats. Although majorities of White and Black Democrats say police are doing an inadequate job in these areas, the intensity of these views is greater among Black Democrats. For example, Black Democrats remain more likely than White Democrats to say police are doing a poor job using the right amount of force for each situation (49% vs. 33%) and to say police are doing a poor job treating racial and ethnic groups equally (60% vs. 41%).
Regardless of their race or ethnicity, Americans are more likely to say that police officers in their community are doing an adequate job in each of these areas when compared with officers across the country. For example, 61% say police officers in their community are doing an excellent or good job at using the right amount of force for each situation, compared with 44% who say the same of officers across the country. This pattern is largely evident among White, Black and Hispanic adults alike.
Views of spending on local police
In the survey conducted just prior to the release of the Tyre Nichols video, about half of adults (49%) say spending on police in their area should be increased, including 18% who say it should be increased a lot. Far fewer (13%) say spending on their local police should be decreased, while 37% say it should stay about the same.
Public views about spending on police are about the same as in September 2021 but are somewhat different than in June 2020, when there were nationwide protests over police brutality. At that time, a quarter of adults said that spending on police in their area should be decreased, while 31% said it should be increased.
In the January 2023 survey, roughly half of Hispanic (52%) and White (51%) adults say spending on police in their area should be increased, compared with 42% of Black adults and 36% of Asian adults. Two-in-ten Black adults, and a similar share of Asian adults (21%), say spending should be decreased; just 10% of White adults and 13% of Hispanic adults say this.
There remain substantial age and partisan differences on this question, too. Older adults and Republicans are more likely than younger adults and Democrats to favor increased spending on their local police.
Note: Here are the questions used for the report and its methodology.