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Los Angeles voters have policing problems but don’t want fewer cops

Los Angeles voters have serious concerns about the Los Angeles Police Department, but little interest in reducing its size amid worries about rising crime, according to a new poll by UC Berkeley and The Times.

Less than a third of registered city voters polled said they approved of the LAPD’s overall performance — a surprising drop from 2009, when a Times poll found 77% of people approved of the department under William’s leadership. J. Bratton, an influential leader. who oversaw dramatic reforms.

And a majority of respondents think LAPD officers are tougher on black residents than other Angelenos. Nearly half said these racial inequalities are the result of systemic issues within the department, not just the behavior of individual officers.

Support for the LAPD today is even lower than in 1991, shortly after the Rodney King beating, when 46% of those polled said they approved of the department.

The current poll found that 30% of respondents approved of the work the LAPD does, 38% disapproved, and 32% said they didn’t know or had no opinion. Asked about LAPD Chief Michel Moore, 20% approved, 30% disagreed, and half said they had no opinion.

However, most voters also consider crime to be on the rise, and few said they wanted a smaller police force, according to the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies’ poll of more than 1,200 registered voters, co-sponsored by the Times.

In fact, two years after mass protests against police brutality rocked Los Angeles and the country, prompting demands to cut police budgets and ranks, the bulk of Los Angeles voters polled want see the size of the LAPD increase.

This was true for all racial and ethnic groups – but not among voters under 30, who were the only cohort to show a preference for a reduction in police ranks.

Asked what the next mayor of Los Angeles should do, 47% of respondents said the number of police officers in the city should be increased and 17% said the number should remain as is.

In comparison, only 15% said strength should be reduced. Another 20% said they had no opinion.

Increasing the size of the LAPD has been a focus of the mayoral race and current city officials. The department, which had more than 10,000 officers, now has fewer than 9,400.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who along with real estate developer Rick Caruso is leading the race, said the force should reach its authorized size of more than 9,700; Caruso said he wanted way more officers than that. City budget analysts predicted neither likely faces attrition and recruiting issues.

While many registered voters opposed cutting police ranks, nearly half of poll respondents — 49% — also said the city would be better off if it reallocated some police funding to d other social services, compared to 33% who said it would be worse.

The numbers underscore “the ambivalence and complication in how the public thinks about the police,” said Berkeley political science professor Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies.

The dissonance comes as voters prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday for a primary election in which races for mayor and other offices have been dominated by public safety and homelessness concerns.

More than a third of survey respondents said crime was the most important issue for them.

The poll, however, shows that their thoughts on the best way forward are complex.

“You see that in the data. People are seeing crime increase. There is some heightened anxiety about crime,” Schickler said. “At the same time, in a city like LA, you see a fair amount of distrust of the LAPD.”

Violent crime has risen sharply in Los Angeles in recent years. Homicides and shootings are at levels not seen in more than a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic, and robberies and some property crimes — including motor vehicle thefts — have increased. These realities are not lost on voters.

Of those surveyed, 40% said crime had increased a lot in the city over the past two years, and 25% said it had increased somewhat. Another 18% said it stayed about the same. Only 2% said it had decreased.

According to the poll, voters who plan to vote for Caruso are far more concerned about crime — and far more supportive of more policing — than those who support more progressive candidates like Bass.

The Times interviews reflected similar nuances in how residents feel about policing and security.

Maria Camacho, a 58-year-old Latina from South Los Angeles, said she believed the LAPD was poorly trained, under bad leadership and focused on the wrong things.

“They act when they don’t need to, and when they should, they don’t,” she said.

Still, rising crime has put her at risk — thieves have broken into her yard and stolen things — and she supports adding more officers and resources to the LAPD, he said. she declared.

Sharron Green, 35, also from South LA, said she mostly felt safe in her neighborhood, where people know her and her family and don’t mess with them.

More frightening, she said, is the possibility of encountering police officers, who she says have been unfair and dismissive of her family in the past because they are black and from a low-income neighborhood.

“It doesn’t make me any safer when cops are there with a black husband and three black sons,” Green said. “I feel really uncomfortable.”

Because of these concerns, Green said she was against adding more cops to the streets. But she also does not support cutting funding for the police, she said, saying instead more oversight and more diversity among the base is needed.

The strength of the LAPD largely reflects the demographics of the city, with Latinos representing the largest cohort of officers.

Carol Katona, 80, who is white and has lived in Venice since the 1970s, said she has felt decidedly less safe in recent years.

“It’s a crime what politicians allowed in Venice,” she said. ” People are scared. I don’t like to go anywhere at night.

Katona attributes the crime to homelessness and mental health issues, but also to a lack of leadership from local politicians, prosecutors and police – who she says sent a signal to officers not to enforce the laws.

She would like to see more social and mental health services for the homeless, but not at the expense of the LAPD, she said.

“I wish we had police officers walking the streets and getting to know people and keeping tabs on things,” Katona said.

The poll was conducted May 24-31 online in English and Spanish among 1,204 registered voters in the city of Los Angeles. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

There are limits on how registered voters can vote. Although they elect the people who set the LAPD’s budget, size, and policy, they don’t include everyone affected by these things, including non-citizen immigrants.

In 2009, one-third of Los Angeles voters said the LAPD treated all racial groups equally. That fell to just 15% in the latest poll. The share of people who said LAPD officers are tougher on black residents has risen from one-third in 2009 to more than half now. The share of those who said the LAPD is tougher on Latino residents also increased, from 16% to 24%.

Among voters who want to see the size of the force reduced, there was nearly universal agreement that the LAPD treats black residents unfairly. But even among those who want to see the LAPD grow, a plurality of about 4 in 10 think the LAPD is tougher on black residents.

When asked if the police made them feel somewhat safe or somewhat anxious, 41% of survey respondents said somewhat safe and 36% said somewhat anxious. Black and Latino voters were more likely to say the police made them mostly anxious – at 43% and 45%, respectively.

About two-thirds of voters who are immigrants want to see the size of the force increased.

Dorly Francisco, 34, an immigrant from Guatemala who can’t vote but pays taxes, said crime was on the rise in her south Los Angeles neighborhood, but police weren’t there. “They don’t do anything,” she said.

She wants more police officers who are better trained and less discriminatory toward Latinos and other residents, she said. And given how wealthy this country is, she said, she doesn’t understand why LA can’t provide good policing and strong social services at the same time.

Survey respondents were also asked about other public safety issues – including a newly implemented LAPD policy prohibiting police from using minor traffic violations as an excuse to investigate motorists and others for more serious crimes, unless the offense would significantly interfere with public safety or the police have prior information about the suspect warranting the arrest.

The policy follows years of complaints from residents of color that LAPD officers disproportionately and unfairly used minor traffic stops to harass and frisk people in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.

More than 40% of respondents said the new policy limiting such stops strikes the right balance, while 24% said it doesn’t go far enough to protect residents’ rights. Only 15% said the policy went too far in restricting agents, and a further 20% said they had no opinion.

Beyond the city, the poll also asked voters across the state about their perception of crime.

Even more statewide voters than citywide voters consider crime to be on the rise, with 75% of statewide respondents saying crime has increased in the past two years, compared to 65% of voters in the city.

Times editor David Lauter contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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