Jul 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Pew poll: Americans support allowing citizens to sue officers for misconduct

A police officer arresting a demonstrator in Portland, Oregon, on July 4.
A police officer arresting a demonstrator in Portland, Oregon, on July 4. Photo: John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

66% of Americans support repealing qualified immunity for police officers and allowing civilians to sue officers for misconduct and excessive use of force, even if it makes law enforcement’s jobs more difficult, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.

Why it matters: Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability. When applied to police officers, it makes successful prosecution of misconduct difficult. Black Lives Matters is calling for an end to qualified immunity for police, and the practice has been at the center of debate on police reform.

  • The doctrine only applies so long as the officials did not violate “clearly established” law, according to the Lawfare Institute.

By the numbers: Though a majority of those surveyed support ending qualified immunity, only 25% said they believe spending on local law enforcement should be decreased. 14% said funding should be reduced a little, and 12% said it should be substantially decreased.

  • 84% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said citizens should be allowed to sue officers for misconduct, compared with 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners.
  • While Black and Hispanic adults were more likely than white individuals to support police budget cuts, fewer than half of Black people (42%) and Hispanics (24%) favored reducing police budgets. However, Black, Hispanic and white adults under age 50 were more likely to support reduced police funding for police in their areas than those 50 and older.
  • A majority (92%) of Americans surveyed said they believe police should be trained to use nonviolent alternatives to deadly force.
  • 90% said they favor the creation of a federal database to track officers accused of misconduct, while 75% support allowing civilian oversight boards to investigate and discipline police misconduct.

Of note: Overall, a majority of Americans (58%) say that police around the U.S. are doing an excellent or good job of protecting people from crimes.

  • However, only 35% said police do an excellent or good job of using the right amount of force for each situation, and 34% said they believe police treat racial and ethnic groups equally.

The big picture: Since George Floyd's killing while in police custody and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, some states and cities scaled back the force that officers can use on civilians, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

Methodology: This survey was conducted in June among 4,708 U.S. adults . It is is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.

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