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Loyola Marymount Study of Angelenos Finds Wide Support for “Bigger and Broader Changes” to Policing

The survey found nearly two-thirds support for redirecting LAPD money towards local programs.

“I think it’s actually really interesting data, that people who are in closest proximity to those who have policing power are saying ‘There’s a problem here,’” said BLM-LA organizer Tabatha Jones Jolivet of the finding that the survey found majority support for “completely dismantling” police departments among respondents with police force members in their household. (PHOTO: Alex McElvain)

A Loyola Marymount University study of local attitudes towards policing released last week found robust support for redirecting funding from the Los Angeles Police Department towards public services and strong, broadly-held desire to see the role of department significantly reconsidered, with a substantial degree of support for dismantling the department entirely — particularly among Black Angelenos and those located in within the LAPD’s South Bureau.

The survey, which included over 1,750 respondents, found 62.3% of people support “proposals to redirect some money currently going to the police budget to local programs,” and 36.7% support for “proposals to completely dismantle police departments and give more financial support to local programs.” (The authors report a ±2.5% margin of error.)

“Angelenos are open to changes, not just small, little, tiny changes, but bigger and broader changes,” Brianne Gilbert, the Associate Director at LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles told Knock. “Overall, Angelenos think LAPD is doing a good job of at least one thing: maintaining public safety. Not everybody, by any means, but overall they think they are doing a good job, as opposed to a bad job. But we still have these areas of improvement. And Angelenos are willing to make these changes to get to this new version of policing they’d like to see.”

Gilbert stressed, though, that the overall numbers bear closer investigation. “Overall, residents think LAPD is doing a good job, but not everybody agrees. So just looking at the toplines can kind of overshadow the results.”

One of the major findings emphasized by authors was consistent and substantial racial and geographic disparity in attitudes towards police.

Among Black Angelenos, the LMU team found 50.8% support for “proposals to completely dismantle,” 57.5% support for “proposals to defund,” and 73.9% support for “proposals to direct some money currently going to” police departments.

“Trust Black people,” Tabatha Jones, an organizer with Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles, said when asked about her overall takeaway from the new data. “Because we are consistent, as communities that are most harmed by police violence and police abuse. We’ve been consistent in building an abolitionist vision for what safety looks like, which has absolutely included defunding the police and reimagining public safety by divesting from traditional policing, and really reclaiming those resources to advance the conditions that foster flourishing for Black folks. Which in turn helps everybody.”

The survey, for which initial design conversations began in May (with field questions running from August 31 through October 15), represents the most robust opinion data on Angelenos’ attitudes towards the role of policing citywide. Gilbert described an iterative survey design process, intended to capture answers to questions that Angelenos as a public want to see asked.

“It was really cool to be able to do a deep dive with so many different individuals and find out what they wanted to talk about. We would show them the questions that we were considering, walk through them,” Gilbert said. “And time and time again, people kept coming back to this: ‘It’s not that we don’t want any police. We just don’t want it how it is right now.’”

The release of the survey findings came the week that newly-elected District Attorney George Gascón announced what one lawyer has described to Knock as a “shock and awe campaign” of ambitious, progressive reforms, and a month after the resounding countywide passage (57–42 percent) of Measure J, a proposal to allocate county general funds into alternatives to criminalization and incarceration.

“If somebody were to say, ‘Oh, well, this data, this survey, this isn’t really what Angelenos think,” Gilbert said, “Well, you can’t argue with the data from the election. Well, I guess some people could,” she allowed, laughing. “But by and large the election data, as in our data, speaks to this too, in different ways. The people in LA want to do something different, and they don’t want to just have the status quo.”

Jones, who is a social scientist by training and profession, suggested that this new data allowed for “triangulation.”

“All [triangulation] means,” Jones Jolivet explained, “is you’re not just looking at a single snapshot of data to try to make sense out of it. You’re looking at how it collaborates with or is negated by other sources of data. So how do you think about this survey that scholars at LMU have produced, the People’s Budget data, coupled with election results that have again moved in a progressive direction? That’s what we call classic triangulation.”

One finding highlighted by the authors’ presentation was the massive support for “unarmed model of crisis response” currently under consideration (a pilot program has been approved) by Los Angeles City Council. 82% of respondents wanted to see calls for non-violent mental health care response diverted away from LAPD.

“Eighty-two percent,” Jones Jolivet emphasized. “I think that’s again, another astonishing note in the data that’s in agreement with what we saw on the People’s Budget survey. And I think it’s a referendum for the city to say that we need to move in the direction of unarmed response to mental health and social crisis.”

“It truly aligns with what we saw represented in the People’s Budget survey that we conducted earlier this summer,” Jones Jolivet said. “There was an overwhelming focus around divesting from traditional systems of policing. Divesting from a model of police ‘safety.’ And I’m putting that in quotes that’s really tied to punishment and surveillance, and fundamentally anti-Blackness, and other communities of color, especially poor folks being criminalized.”

One eyebrow-raising pattern beneath the topline conclusions not highlighted by the authors’ presentation: the tenor of opinion held by those who reported having a member of their household in law enforcement.

“We had some individuals who completed this program who have a member of the police force in their family,” Gilbert said, asked about these specific findings by KNOCK. “We thought that may… not skew the data, but we thought there may be some interesting findings, that basically their opinions, versus others’ thinking, would be more pro-police and… that really wasn’t the case!” Jones Jolivet recalled, laughing. “Even in our focus group. There were some people who said there was a family member in the police force, or in law enforcement. And they definitely did not have a pro-police bias whatsoever.”

The subgroup with a police force member in their household was found to be nearly twenty percentage points more likely than the overall population to support “dismantling” police departments entirely, with a majority — 57% — indicating support for the idea.

“I think it’s actually really interesting data, that people who are in closest proximity to those who have policing power are saying ‘There’s a problem here,’” Jones Jolivet said of this pattern. “It’s what we call in social science, ‘discrepant data’ — it doesn’t align with what you would expect, right? And there’s good reason for that: it’s probably not really comfortable, frankly, for folks in close proximity to people with policing power to be able to publicly talk about the real impact of being associated with that kind of power in their most intimate life.”

Both Jones Jolivet and Gilbert saw the data as indicative of a public in broad agreement that the traditional model of policing is in need of meaningful reconsideration.

“It’s not like Angelenos are saying there needs to be no protecting and serving,” Gilbert said, “it just needs to look different. And that’s okay.”

Jones Jolivet went further.

“Folks might not be able to say just yet, ‘I want this to be dismantled.’ But everybody can agree that there’s too much use of force,” Jones Jolivet said. (“Reduced use of force” far outstripped other responses to an open-ended question about desired changes to the department.) “And now folks, especially those who are not always in proximity to the violence, have seen the violence vividly during a moment of crisis because of this pandemic. So I’m not surprised at that at all.”

“For those of us in Black Lives Matter,” Jones Jolivet continued, “we think that the only way to truly do that is to abolish the system of policing all together. But there’s a great saying by an abolitionist, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, that this is ‘survival pending abolition.’ That along the way, we’re going to have to sort of have some agreement about ‘Listen, this has to stop,’ and I think folks are saying, you know, we can all agree about that.”