New National Polling Data on Different Approaches to Public Safety in America
Communities across the United States are attempting to develop new and innovative ways to “reimagine” public safety. This reimagining has included piloting different approaches to crisis response by including other professionals in addition to law enforcement. While the adoption of these models is widespread and growing, it has been unclear as to how supportive the public is of these approaches.
To explore this sentiment, The Joyce Foundation supported a public opinion research project exploring the public’s views of, and reaction to, these different approaches to addressing public safety. Conducted by Lake Research Partners, and The Tarrance Group between January 30 - February 9, 2023, the project included a national survey and demographic oversamples of Black and Latinx voters, with state oversamples in Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota.
The findings provide important insights to the public views on these different approaches to addressing public safety. Overall, more than 7-in-10 voters nationwide support investments in additional approaches to traditional policing, such as mental health professionals, trained social workers, and community-based violence intervention specialists.
Voters were also asked about a wide variety of incidents that might cause someone to call 9-1-1 to see in what incidents voters would want the police, rather than other professionals, to respond. Voters feel the police are most needed in response to what some would consider to be serious crimes and/or crimes that have a high risk of violence or danger. However, mental health distress calls are one area where people feel that police should not be the primary response. Sixty-two percent of voters feel that we should not use police officers for mental health distress calls.
The research team also hoped to learn who the public saw or envisioned as a first responder. Almost all voters consider several professions to be first responders, including paramedics, firefighters, police officers and ambulance drivers. 9-1-1 dispatchers are also considered first responders by 71% of voters. Half of voters consider nurses to be first responders. Lower on the list are mental health professionals; community-based violence intervention specialists; trained social workers; community-based violence interrupters; and psychiatrists.
Finally, the research team wanted to gauge the kinds of messaging about additional approaches to traditional policing that resonate with voters. Top messages focus on successful pilot programs that already exist; the wide variety of emergency calls that occur; and the lack of existing support for 9-1-1 dispatchers.
To learn more about the project, its methodology and findings, see these resources: