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Survey finds many Angelenos approve of the LAPD, but also want some funding shifted

A new survey found many Angelenos approve of the LAPD, but also would like to see some of its funding shifted.
A new survey found many Angelenos approve of the LAPD, but also would like to see some of its funding shifted.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles residents largely approve of their police department and feel that LAPD officers do a good job protecting their communities, but they also support the Black Lives Matter movement and want to see some police funding shifted to alternative social services, according to a survey conducted by Loyola Marymount University.

While a majority of respondents opposed abolishing or “defunding” the Los Angeles Police Department entirely, they strongly backed the idea of dispatching trained crisis response specialists on calls involving mental health crises, substance abuse and homelessness — either in lieu of armed police officers or alongside them, the survey found.

“Clearly there is some significant support for redirecting some of the budget away from LAPD,” Fernando Guerra, director of the university’s Study LA research center, told the Police Commission during a virtual meeting Tuesday. “Their gut instinct is that something of this nature has to happen.”

Guerra said the results showed that “Angelenos want a new way of thinking about public safety that is very different from what it was” decades ago.

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He said they also showed that perceptions of the LAPD vary greatly by race and geographic area — with significantly less trust in police among communities of color and in low-income neighborhoods — and highlighted several warning signs for the department, including concerns among some residents that police sometimes stop people without justification, and that the force used by officers during recent protests was excessive.

The findings of the new study, commissioned by the LAPD, mirror other recent polling that showed an appetite for change in how law enforcement interacts with residents in crises — even if it means shifting budget priorities — and could help inform an intensifying debate around police funding moving forward.

The results presented Tuesday morning came amid increasing violent crime and as city officials mulled a plan to eliminate more than 350 police officer positions to address a yawning $675-million budget deficit.

While more than half of the nearly 1,800 respondents said they felt Los Angeles was headed in the wrong direction — a more than 20-percentage-point drop in optimism from five years ago — nearly two-thirds said they felt the LAPD was doing a good job maintaining public safety where they lived, and more than 60% said police were doing a good job treating members of their community with respect.

At the same time, more than 62% of respondents said they supported proposals to redirect some money from police to local programs.

Nearly 37% of respondents were in favor of completely dismantling the police department to give more financial support to local programs, while 63% opposed that idea. Respondents were more split on the general idea of “defunding” police, with 47% in favor and 53% opposed.

Respondents heavily supported the idea of individuals in crisis being met with teams of first responders that included police and nonpolice responders, particularly when the incidents were described as nonviolent.

More than 82% said they approved of a model that would “divert calls for service in nonviolent situations away from the LAPD, and toward unarmed social and mental health professionals.”

For calls about mental health crises, more than 52% said they wanted to see teams of police and nonpolice responders, with another 31% saying they favored nonpolice responses. For substance abuse calls, 51% wanted teams and 22% wanted nonpolice alternatives. For calls about people experiencing homelessness, 46% said they preferred teams, while another 33% wanted nonpolice alternatives.

Respondents were more split when it came to calls for domestic violence and sexual assault, with more than 40% of respondents calling for police alone to respond to each type of incident.

Among all those surveyed, about 58% said the LAPD does a good job responding to incidents with an “appropriate amount of officers,” while that figure dropped below 50% in South L.A.

Of all respondents, 46.5% said they would describe their experiences with police as “mostly positive,” while about 20% said they would describe their experiences as “mostly negative.” Another third said they hadn’t had any experiences with police.

Positive impressions were substantially less common among Black and Latino residents and among residents of South L.A. While more than 65% of white respondents reported having “mostly positive” experiences with the LAPD, only about 28% of Black residents and 37% of Latino residents reported the same. Nearly 38% of Black respondents reported having “mostly negative” experiences.

A full 30% of Black respondents said they could never trust their local LAPD officers to do the right thing, compared with just 4.2% of white respondents, 5.7% of Asian respondents and 9.8% of Latino respondents.

The Study LA survey, which claimed a 2.5% margin of error, was conducted over the phone, online and in person between August and October. Respondents answered questions in multiple languages and were surveyed in various parts of the city.

Members of the Police Commission lauded the survey as providing critical analysis that will help inform the department on issues it needs to address.

Commissioner Lou Calanche said she was interested in parsing responses that showed less police trust among youth and in low-income communities, which did not come as a surprise to her.

Commissioner Steve Soboroff said he was shocked that, despite large amounts of support for the LAPD, more than a third of respondents suggested that the department should be dismantled. He said he was interested in digging into the data in order to “interpret this for progress” and make changes that address concerns in the community.

The commission took up the survey after having a long discussion with LAPD Chief Michel Moore about the looming budget cuts. Moore left the commission meeting prior to discussion of the survey results, headed to a City Council meeting where the cuts were to be discussed.

Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala said the survey “helps to provide a focus of where we need to be tomorrow,” including by identifying gaps in trust in certain communities where the department could be doing a better job communicating and connecting with residents — including younger residents.

Commission President Eileen Decker said the commission would continue to evaluate the findings of the survey in coming days and work with the Police Department to implement any changes that could help address concerns identified.


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