Popular opinion in the United States is catching up with the realities of policing. The number of people who say they are confident that police are adequately trained to avoid excessive force has dropped from 54% in 2014 to 44% this month, a Washington Post/ABC News poll finds. And 60% of people said the U.S. should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, while 33% said the country is doing “too much to interfere in how police officers do their job.”
The poll was started before and finished after the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, with the results not significantly different before or after the verdict. It would seem that people do understand that the problem did not begin and end with Derek Chauvin or any one officer.
Those results suggest that Democrats shouldn’t just be confident that promoting serious police reform and holding police departments accountable are the right policies—they’re also increasingly good politics. In fact, the poll found a 42% plurality saying that President Joe Biden is doing too little on police reform, with 32% saying he’s doing the right amount and just 15% thinking Biden is doing too much.
This poll comes as Democrats press the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would mandate training for officers, improve data collections and investigations, end qualified immunity, and much more.
Following the Chauvin verdict, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a Justice Department investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The Trump administration had virtually abandoned such “pattern or practice” investigations, which go beyond a look at specific officers to departments as a whole, looking for systemic misconduct.
In remarks Wednesday, Garland announced “that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”
“The new civil investigation is separate from and independent of the federal criminal investigation into the death of George Floyd that the Justice Department has previously announced,” he noted. Such pattern or practice investigations “look beyond individual incidents to assess systemic failures,” Garland said, announcing that the investigation would touch on excessive use of force during protests, discriminatory conduct, and the treatment of people with behavioral and health disabilities. It will include a “comprehensive review” of the department’s policies, training, supervision, and use of force investigations, and will “assess the effectiveness of current systems of accountability.”
If the Justice Department concludes that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing exists, it will issue a public report and may bring a civil lawsuit to force the Minneapolis Police Department to change its practices—though a more likely result is that the department would settle and enter into a consent decree.
The resumption of pattern or practice investigations will be an important move toward police accountability—something the Justice Department rejected under Donald Trump. Passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would be another important step. And, as the new poll shows, Democrats and Republicans alike need to internalize that voters are not going to automatically get on board with fearmongering about the police being unable to do their jobs.