Poll: Detroit Residents More Concerned About Education and Public Safety Than Police Reform

Majority say they would feel safer with more police officers, not fewer

Detroit residents say the biggest issues facing their city are education and public safety, and they are far less concerned about police reform, according to a new Suffolk University/USA TODAY/Detroit Free Press poll.

By an overwhelming 9-to-1 ratio, those surveyed said they would feel safer with more police officers in Detroit neighborhoods, not fewer.

The poll is the second in Suffolk University and USA TODAY’s CityView collaboration exploring attitudes in major American cities toward policing, public safety and other related topics. CityView surveyed Milwaukee residents in June.

Asked what is the biggest issue facing Detroit today, 23% of residents said education, followed by 19% who cited public safety. On the list of eight issues, police reform ranked last, with just 4% of respondents calling it the biggest issue facing Detroit. It trailed affordable housing (12%), COVID-19 (11%), jobs (9%), taxes (6%) and race relations (5%).

"Of the following issues, what do you think is the biggest issue facing the city of Detroit today?"
Suffolk University/USA TODAY/Detroit Free Press Poll July 25, 2021

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston, said it was “striking” to see education rise to the top issue on the minds of Detroit residents.

“Education has generally been a lower-priority issue in polls for decades, eclipsed by the economy, healthcare, terrorism and, most recently, COVID,” Paleologos said. “But coming out of the pandemic, education appears to be on a strong trajectory toward the top. The poll shows it was No. 1 overall in Detroit, as well as No. 1 among Black men in the city. Education could emerge as a key issue in the 2022 midterms.”

Public Safety

Detroit residents are worried about violent crime and a significant rise in homicides and shootings since 2019. They blame the pandemic and lockdown, the availability of guns and a lack of jobs as the top causes, followed by a lack of police/enforcement.

Residents give mixed reviews to police. About 40% of respondents said police are doing a good or excellent job, while 58% rated police either fair or poor.

By a margin of 81% to 5%, Black residents report they are treated worse, rather than better, by police because of their race, while whites say they are treated better by a margin of 66% to 24%. Even among Black residents of different genders there are stark differences. More than twice as many Black men, 38%, say they have been stopped by police, as compared to 17% of Black women, and almost half of those men report they were unsatisfied with the encounter. Of all the Black men who responded to the survey, not a single one reported that they felt they were treated better by police because of their race.

On the other hand, half of residents (50%) say they would ask a police officer for help if they needed it; 66% would provide information to the police if they witnessed a crime; and 73% would like to see more police on the job in their neighborhood. Seventy-seven percent of residents say that in general the police do a good job despite some racist officers on the force. And while a large majority (65%) oppose the idea of “defunding the police,” 49% say they would support diverting some funding from the police to social services.

Sixty-four percent of Detroit residents say that police brutality and racism in America are real, with just 26% of respondents saying these issues are exaggerated in the media.

This could complicate the political ambitions of former Detroit police chief James Craig, who is planning to seek the Republican nomination for governor of Michigan in 2022. Forty-six percent of Detroit residents say his record in the city would make them less likely to support him for governor.

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