Poll: Stark Difference in Police Approval Among Black and White Milwaukee Residents

A majority believe they’re treated differently because of race

Milwaukee residents maintain a complicated relationship with their city’s police department, according to a new survey by Suffolk University, USA TODAY, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This survey, the first in a planned series of the most diverse and populous cities in the United States, polled 500 residents of Milwaukee about policing, reform, and other related issues. 

Milwaukeeans overall rate the police as doing an either fair (45%) or poor (16%) job, with only 35% rating them as good or excellent. Black residents, however, by a much wider margin, rate police as poor or fair (81%), with slightly more than half (52%) of white and Hispanic residents saying the same. 

Perceived racial bias in policing

A majority (53%) of Milwaukee residents report that they are treated differently based on their race, including 71% of Black residents and 53% of whites. Eighty-two percent of whites say they are treated better due to their race; conversely 86% of Black, 66% of Hispanic, and 71% of Asian American residents say they are treated worse. 

"Thinking about the City of Milwaukee in general, do you feel you are treated the same as residents of other races, or do you think you are treated differently because of your race?"
Suffolk University/USA TODAY/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Poll June 16, 2021

"There is no disagreement between whites and people of color on whether they feel treated differently,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “The difference is that white Milwaukee residents clearly feel they are treated better, and Black, Hispanic and Asian American residents feel they are treated worse. Improving positive one-to-one police interactions will go a long way toward moving all residents to the middle of the spectrum."

Questions about opinions on policing in Milwaukee paint a murky picture. Despite a majority of respondents rating the police either fair or poor, when asked about their views on police in general, 63% said that Milwaukee police generally do a good job and treat people of different races fairly, "even if there are a few bad apples on the force," while 29% believe that racism among the police is a pervasive, systemic issue. Fifty-four percent of residents say police sometimes stop people for no good reason, and 45% say that they use more force than necessary. Notably, only 38% of Black Milwaukeeans responded that they would be very likely to call the police for help, compared with 68% of white residents who would not hesitate to turn to law enforcement.   

Defunding the police

While Milwaukeeans reject the idea of “defunding the police” by a nearly 2-1 margin (57% opposing and 29% supporting), a majority (55%) would support moving some police funding to social services for the homeless or mentally ill. 


This survey of 500 Milwaukee residents was conducted June 3 through June 6, 2021, and is based on live telephone interviews of adults 18 years of age or older, residing in all 15 aldermanic districts in the city of Milwaukee. Quota and demographic information – including region, race, and age – were determined from census and American Community Survey data. Aldermanic districts were grouped into three general regions. Surveys were administered in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is +/- 4.4 percentage points. Error margins increase for smaller subgroups in the cross-tabulation document. All surveys may be subject to other sources of error, including but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Results are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, [email protected].


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