Monday Morning Thoughts: Confidence in Police at a Record Low


By David  M. Greenwald

In 2015 when a string of incidents involving the police started occurring—Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray—it led to a national movement pushing back against police-involved killings, particularly of young Black men.

The death of George Floyd this year along with other highly publicized police incidents—Breonna Taylor and Rashard Brooks—has brought back some of the unresolved issues from 2015.

Concerns about policing is not merely limited to police killings, but also other forms of misconduct.  Two weeks ago our column presented evidence of widespread dishonesty from police.

In a piece this morning, ProPublica found, “The NYPD has regularly failed to turn over key records and videos to police abuse investigators at New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.”

Their investigation found, “Despite its legal obligations, the NYPD has been withholding significant evidence and undermining investigations of alleged abuse. It has stopped sharing a wide variety of paper records and has been redacting the names of potential witnesses from others without explanation. For two months this year, it allowed officers to refuse to be interviewed by CCRB investigators. And, critically, it often doesn’t produce body-worn camera footage.”

The focus on police practices is no aberration.  And the incidents are starting to erode confidence in the public about the police—especially for Black individuals.

Last week, polling from Gallup shows another  illustration of the impact of the George Floyd incident—the protests that have taken place over public confidence in policing, according to a Gallup poll released.

What perhaps makes this more profound is that confidence in other major institutions has risen at the same time.

Medical system—Gallup found public confidence up 15 points over a year.  Public schools are under fire from some, but “Confidence in the public school system also rose this year — by 12 points — to 41%, its highest point since 2004.”

Policing, not so much.

Trust in law enforcement peaked in the early 2000s—following 911 and the surge in public support for first responders.  It was at 64 percent in 2004 and 63 percent in 2005.

This year confidence in police fell five points to 48 percent.  That makes it the first time in Gallup’s 27 years of asking the question that the number fell below 48 percent.  Last year it was 53 percent.

There are a number of interesting things about the Gallup Poll which we can track over time.  First, in June 2015—before Michael Brown and Eric Garner—the Gallup poll on confidence in police found that it had fallen to a 22-year low. at that time 52 percent.

But by 2017, the Gallup Poll found confidence was back to the historical average.

Now it has dipped even below 2015.  In fact this is the first time ever in the 27 years of polling on public attitudes of police that Gallup found a majority of American adults do not trust law enforcement.

There is a huge partisan split here.

Confidence in the police rose seven points among Republicans to 82 percent and dropped six points among Democrats to 28 percent.

There is also a racial split.

For whites the number is at 56 percent who trust the police.  For Blacks it is 19 percent.

Mohamed Younis, Gallup’s editor-in-chief. noted that the gap between Black and white Americans in confidence on police “has never been greater.

“One of the starkest metrics in this year’s poll is that 11 percent of Black Americans express confidence in the criminal justice system,” Younis said. “That means nine out of 10 Black Americans in this country do not have confidence in a process built on the theory that all citizens are equal before the law.”

Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and chief executive of the Center for Policing Equity and a professor of African-American studies and psychology at Yale, recently told the NY Times that the downward trend in confidence is not policing—“if you’ve been watching the news.”

The racial gap, Goff said, could be attributed to the “kind of law enforcement people from different racial groups tend to receive in this country,” and that “none of these things are mysteries. It is exactly for the reasons that you think it is.”

But what he finds newsworthy is that a majority of the public does not have confidence in law enforcement, something he called “unprecedented in this country.”  Those worried about rising violence in certain cities might want to look at this figure as a possible explanation because, as Goff said, compliance with the law “begins with trust in it, and not fear of it.”

The issue has received a lot of attention this year with pollsters and research centers.

In July, Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans believed “major changes” were needed to improve policing.  Nearly everyone—96 percent of respondents—supported changing management practices to increase police accountability, while 82 percent supported community-based alternatives such as violence intervention.

Unions, which have been a focus in California this week—56 percent of those surveyed advocated for the elimination of police unions, while 47 percent believed that funding for police departments should be diverted to social programs and services.

The polling on defunding police has bounced all over the place, but abolishing police departments proved too extreme for participants, with 15 percent support for the idea.

A Pew Research Center poll in July found that huge majorities support the elimination of qualified immunity—66 percent of respondents said that civilians should have the power to sue individual police officers to hold them accountable for misconduct and/or excessive use of force.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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42 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Confidence in Police at a Record Low”

  1. Keith Olsen

    U.S. lawmakers and the media continue to inspire little confidence from Americans. With many in the U.S. reliant on the media to get factual information about the pandemic, this is a concerning finding.

    Organized Labor…..31%


    TV News………………18%


    The police came in fourth out of 16 categories.

    They ranked a lot higher than the media and those bringing us their opinions.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You are acting like that’s a defense. The reality is that policing had been one of the institutions that Americans trusted and now that trust has been eroded. The fact that other institutions are less liked is less important than the trajectory of policing. Can you imagine if policing ended up where congress is? Would your defense of policing still be, but at least they are higher than congress? I really don’t understand the point you are trying to make. This doesn’t bode well for this nation if the public can’t trust its institutions.

      1. Keith Olsen

        What do you expect when the police are mocked daily by the leftist mainstream media?  Sure their numbers are going to come down.  I’m surprised they aren’t much lower with the pounding they’ve been getting lately.  But somehow they’re still more trusted than most other major institutions.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Come sit with me in the court some time and watch – when the world re-opens and see if it changes your mind.

        1. Tia Will


          “Mocked daily by the leftist mainstream media” or having the truth of their actions pointed out. Which is more valid is a matter of perspective. Unless of course you are saying the well-documented abuses of power did not actually occur.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            One of the problems that I keep trying to illustrate is that officer involved shootings and use of force complaints are only one part of the problem – granted the most visible one, but that a number of other issues underlie it. I showed two weeks ago the research on officer lying. Here I presented a bit of the ProPublica expose on police withholding evidence during internal investigations. These are two much more pervasive problems that haven’t gotten as much attention. And you ignored my comment on seeing officers testify – you would have a very different perspective if you saw how incompetent some of them – a lot of them – are.

      2. Eric Gelber

        Sure there are some cases, but not to the degree that the left leaning media portray it as.

        But to a greater degree than the right leaning media whitewash it as.

    2. Alan Miller

      Why are they criticized daily? It’s because as this article explains, it cannot police itself.

      By that logic, one might ask why the Davis Vanguard is criticized daily.

      I wonder where, in a similar Gallup poll of confidence in Davis institutions, the Davis Vanguard would fall?

  2. Alan Miller

    Not to in any way diminish the clear need for police reform — but here to give some balance:

    Lodi Police Officer saves man in wheelchair who was stuck on train tracks

    Though the officer saved the man from death, she was not able to pull him all the way off the tracks and one of his lower legs was crushed by the train.  If anyone is so inspired, here is the link to a go-fund-me campaign from the man’s family for a new powered-wheelchair plus assistance with medical expenses:

  3. Tia Will



    Sure there are some cases, but not to the degree that the left leaning media portray it as.”

    This is a variant of the “few bad apples” argument. I would love to see how, other than your personal perspective, you would substantiate the statement “not to the degree…” Unless you believe the “left-wing media” are making up cases, as I said.

    How many unjustifiable shootings, strangleholds resulting in death, or serious facial and head injuries attributable to the need to “dominate the streets” including deliberate attacks on the press and medics ( yes, all well documented) are acceptable to you?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Perhaps, while ‘thinking globally’, we also think locally (and NOT aimed at you, Tia)…

      If DPD was doing the things you described, I’d be incensed, and would be active to change DPD… from what I’ve seen reported out, locally, we may not be perfect, but does not seem egregious… certainly not to the extent played out elsewhere…

      I wonder what a poll of Davis residents would have to say about confidence level in DPD… but I don’t know how to research that, and am pretty sure the VG won’t, because it might conflict with the narrative presented, Statewide or Nationwide… and, “wouldn’t sell papers”… or, posts or ‘hits’ as to readers…

      Having worked in conjunction with DPD, dealing with individual officers (me and family), DPD is not perfect … but I have a 95+% confidence level with them over the last 45 years have been in town… there is the ~5% problems, but I always attribute that to individual officers, not a “culture” or ‘institutional’ problem in DPD.


      1. Alan Miller

        I wonder what a poll of Davis residents would have to say about confidence level in DPD… I have a 95+% confidence level with them over the last 45 years have been in town…

        This is a case where I do believe that race matters.  My confidence level too is high, not 95%, but I’d give DPD a decent score overall.  But from the black people I’ve talked to (not just recently but over the years) they do seem to have a more negative experience overall – and that matters.

        Though . . . I just witnessed a couple of incidents that implied that the opposite occurs sometimes – wish I could discuss, but like so many things, I have no ‘proof’ – and I cannot be sure that race was a factor.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Fair response…

          I’m just a “privileged white” dude… but apparently, credible reports of actual police misconduct, at the level Tia described, are few to come by, by documentation of complaints filed…

          There was a [race redacted] guy, [name redacted], who enjoyed provoking DPD in order to create a complaint… long-time residents can fill in those blanks…

          If DPD has a problem, let’s get it out there, and deal with itvery strongly… I encourage folk who have been abused by DPD, to ‘go public’… by filing a complaint with DPD, the ‘ombundsman’, or a credible 3rd party… hard to solve a problem unseen… darn near impossible…

          But the egregious bad behaviors outside Davis, IMO, should not be an immediate assumption that it is happening anywhere near to the same degree here… folk have a moral duty to ‘speak out’ officially, and tell their tales… if they don’t, nothing will change… it can’t, if it is not publicly articulated in some fashion… unless one believes in ‘miracles’….

        2. Alan Miller

          If DPD has a problem, let’s get it out there, and deal with itvery strongly… I encouragefolk who have been abused by DPD, to ‘go public’…

          I believe that is what the police accountability commission is for.   No?

          But the egregious bad behaviors outside Davis, IMO, should not be an immediate assumption that it is happening anywhere near to the same degree here…

          Certainly not.

          Reminds me of when I was looking through the Facebook postings from the so-called victim of what will go down in history of Davis as “The Moore Village Incident”.  The venomous anti-white and anti-police postings there were, um, ‘eye-opening’ . . . or, um, ‘scary AF’ ?  One person posting there criticized white people for calling the police on persons of color (seemed implied they meant even when committing a crime) because that would be a ‘death sentence’ for a person of color.  Um, in Davis?  Perhaps someone can provide the stats on the murder rate by police in Davis of persons-of-color, by race of the victims.

          That’s my way of saying, yes, there may be a need for a deep scrubbing here, in Davis, but no, the problems we see elsewhere are not ‘anywhere near the same degree’.

        3. Ron Oertel

          One person posting there criticized white people for calling the police on persons of color (seemed implied they meant even when committing a crime) because that would be a ‘death sentence’ for a person of color.

          I saw some of that.  I don’t think I’ve ever called the police, based upon someone being “suspicious”.  Other than a guy who was casing-out a family vehicle, but who apparently realized he was being watched.  He came back much later that evening, and stole tail light lenses (for his matching vehicle).

          I think he was a white guy, so I guess it’s “o.k.” that I called. (Though I mistakenly thought he had permanently left.)

          In any case, it’s well-past time for folks to stop ignoring racism, of all types. It is not limited to “white” people, but it seems “socially-acceptable” to ignore it (or even ENCOURAGE it) when it’s committed by others.

      2. Tia Will


        I generally agree with your statement that we do not tend to see the same kind of egregious behaviors here in Davis that have been documented in DC and Portland. However, the point for me is to examine the situation we do have, and strive always for improvement. In.  the last few years, Davis does seem to have been moving in the right direction.

        Independent investigation and citizen oversight are, IMO, two major steps ii the right direction. I would strongly urge a couple more steps borrowed from medicine and other fields.

        1. A checklist. Borrowed initially from airlines, and now used extensively in operating rooms, a checklist of the essentials needed, procedures and protocols prior to action can be lifesaving. One recent example, the Breonna Taylor shooting. If the officers involved had checked for the location of the individual for whom they were searching immediately prior to embarking, they would have found he was in custody, therefore, no need for an unannounced entry and she would be alive today.

        2. Immediate post-action debriefing involving the officers on the scene, the chief, whatever internal monitors are pertinent, an outside auditor, and one representative of civilian oversight. All should be apprised of exactly the same information as soon as possible after the event. This is done not to assign blame, but to prevent future errors of the same type from recurring.

        3. An end to qualified immunity. Those of us in whatever field that involves the possibility of human death if we act in error should be licensed with the possibility of revocation of that licensure and entry into a statewide or national database so that we cannot simply move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

        These relatively simple measures save lives in medicine. The medical community was extremely slow to adopt and adapt them from aviation. But they are highly effective and I would strongly recommend they be considered by all police departments, even those more highly regarded as I am sure the DPD is.

        1. Bill Marshall

          However, the point for me is to examine the situation we do have, and strive always for improvement.

          Perfect agreement with that statement…

          Do not fully agree with the formulae you propose to ‘get there’… have concerns… but am not fully opposed, either…

          But good for discussion purposes, and I thank you for that!

          I believe the keys are thinking about the Davis situation, and working towards ‘continuous improvement’… the car I drive is a ‘manual’… I know you only change gears when you need to… and you never go from fifth gear to reverse… not at all good for the transmission, nor the driver… identifying issues, which cannot be done without honest communication, is key… working to resolve those, perhaps incrementally, is very important… if there is an egregious issue, THAT needs to be forcefully addressed, ‘transmission be ‘damned’…

  4. John Hobbs

    A large portion of society has known for decades that the militarized police were here to protect white privilege and corporate holdings.  I have never seen cops  really help a working person or anyone of color, but hold up an offensive sign in front of bank, they are there in 2 minutes or less.

    1. Alan Miller

      I have never seen cops really help a working person or anyone of color,

      That Lodi police officer who — God, I hate going racial but here goes — appeared white, didn’t just risk her life to pull a disabled Hispanic man off the railroad tracks, because you didn’t “see” it?

      OK, ACAB-er!  [Sung to the tune of  “OK, Boomer!”]

        1. Alan Miller

          I hope I can say this . . . it’s a very common acroynm among the FTP crowd (F The Police).  It’s also on multiple posts on the “The Moore Village Incident” Facebook page.

          ACAB = All Cops Are B*stards

          Funny thing is, now that you know what it means, you’ll see it everywhere.  At least, that’s what happened with me.

  5. Ron Oertel

    Prisons are full of people who have harmed others – including people of color.

    Many of whom have an extensive history of doing so.

    Police and the criminal justice system put them in prison.

    Those are facts.

    Make of it what you will.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I believe that’s how it actually works, the vast majority of the time.

        We have learned that it doesn’t always work that way.  Never has, in any criminal justice system.



  6. David Greenwald Post author

    I find it interesting to read Keith’s comments from yesterday and compare to the case we just covered out of Oakland last night.

    Fatal 2018 shooting.  Independent monitor hammers the shooting itself but especially the handling of it by IA and the Chief.

    The remarkable thing is that no one knew about it until the report came out yesterday.  Two years ago there was a bad shooting, it was caught on video and the only reason we found out is that Oakland has an NSA and the monitor put out the report.

    There are at least 1000 officer-involved fatal shootings each year.  What we learned in 2015 is that no one really kept accurate records.  What we learned in this case is that even now we might not know of all the bad shootings out there.  The assumption by Keith is that if we don’t know about them, they must not be bad.  What we learned with Pawlik last night is that is not true.

    1. Keith Olsen

      This is what you do, you point to a case here or there and make the claim that whole system is corrupt when that’s a false narrative.  But have at it, it’s your blog.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Actually what I do is link local level issues to national data and narratives to give a fuller picture of what is going on at the local level and how it connects to larger policy discussions. And then we provide a place for people to discuss and debate those local reports.

      2. Tia Will


        Do you believe the DPD is so good that there is no room for improvement?

        Do you believe constant improvement in any system, especially one that involves the life and safety of individuals and the community should not be the goal even knowing that perfection is an impossible state?

        1. Bill Marshall

          Not answering for anyone but myself, but I remember a famous quote… “A man’s reach should always exceed his grasp, or what is a heaven for?”

          The goal is the important part… we need to keep moving the football forward, towards the goal line.  That is the thing we we need to do… might not get there, but it is crucial that we must try

        2. Keith Olsen

          Yes I believe in improvement to the system, all systems including healthcare.  But Tia, since you often bring your profession into it would you like it if doctors were continually portrayed as corrupt  because of the work of a few bad apples as the police are now being portrayed?  If the press only pointed out bad doctors and botched surgeries as if it were systematic and blanketed the whole profession?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “if doctors were continually portrayed as corrupt because of the work of a few bad apples as the police are now being portrayed? ”

            This question itself seems problematic.

            First, the question presupposes that police aren’t (I wouldn’t use the word corrupt, because that implies graft and that’s not the accusation) policing in unconstitutional ways, it is simply the “perception” as spawned by the media.

            The problem with that is (A) use of force problems do not start and end with the shooter. Look at the efforts to cover up the Monterrosa shooting in Vallejo – that goes 8 to 10 layers deep – AT LEAST. You have 18 shootings over the past ten years covering multiple chiefs and leadership structures, protected by the union and encouraged by line officers.

            That’s just one example and it’s also just one type of misconduct.

            So your question is leading or misleading at best.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            Then you have the Oakland shooting – we just covered it today. Five officers were involved in the shooting. But the report blasted two different oversight bodies within the police department and the police chief. That probably means it implicated 20 people in that department and that’s just a single shooting.

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