Mayors Reflect On Police Relationships With Residents Of Color In Report
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As the country tries to address racial injustice and police violence, much of the accountability and responsibility for that falls to mayors. A new survey is giving us a look at the attitudes of mayors on policing and how mayors feel about the relationship between law enforcement officials and the communities they're supposed to protect. NPR political reporter Juana Summers got a first look at this new survey and joins us now.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there.
CHANG: Hi. So let's dive in. Tell us about this survey. What did it find?
SUMMERS: Yeah. So, Ailsa, this is an annual survey from Boston University, and it's of mayors who lead cities of more than 75,000 people. And it collected the results of more than a hundred mayors, and that is about a quarter of all mayors of cities of that size. One of the biggest takeaways is that these mayors overwhelmingly acknowledge that Black people are treated worse by the police compared to white people, though their views are more mixed when they are asked whether Black people distrust the police. Here is Katherine Levine Einstein. She's an associate professor at Boston University and helps run the survey.
KATHERINE LEVINE EINSTEIN: Mayors do recognize deep racial disparities in the experience of policing in America. And they, in particular, see that experience as much worse for Black people, so they recognize this deep racial inequality. But at the same time that they recognize this, like, serious problem, they are also unwilling to, in large numbers, recognize police violence in their own communities.
SUMMERS: So I want to just dig into what she's saying here a little bit. Roughly 40% of mayors say they do not believe that police violence is a problem in their community. And the authors of the study told me that they did not see significant differences here based on the race of the mayor responding to the survey. So white and non-white mayors alike said that police violence was not an issue at fairly similar rates. The one place that there was some difference, as you may expect, was between Republican and Democratic mayors.
CHANG: Right - interesting. Well, something else this survey asked mayors about was funding for their police departments, something that has been a flash point in politics this past year. What did the survey results find?
SUMMERS: Yeah. It found that the vast majority of mayors do not support sweeping changes to the funding of their police departments. Eighty percent of the mayors said they believe their police budgets last year were about right. Only about 12% said they believe those budgets to be too big, which is particularly interesting given the outcry that we have heard over the last year from some across the country to defund police departments, to reimagine these budgets and what public safety tactics can look like in local communities.
CHANG: Right. Well, did you get a sense from the survey for what types of changes to police departments that mayors are willing to support?
SUMMERS: Yeah. Broadly speaking, these mayors did not suggest that they support broader transformation of their cities' local police departments. The reforms that they suggested in the open-ended questions in the survey were things that I would say are more a part of the existing structures of these departments. I did call up Mayor James Butts of Inglewood, Calif., who is also a former police chief. When I spoke with him, he pointed to cultural and leadership issues within police departments that he says need to be addressed.
JAMES BUTTS: You have to look inside at your culture, how you police, how you think, look at your complaints that you receive and use those as a barometer or guide as to what you need to do to change behavior and thinking in the department.
SUMMERS: And I should point out that Butts is someone who does not believe that cutting police budgets is the answer. In our conversation, he said that that misses the mark, that it doesn't address the root of the problem entirely. And he believes that cutting funding as some might suggest would actually lead to communities like his being less safe.
CHANG: Of course, this is all coming during a week in which President Biden has promised to put a focus on racial equity. Did that promise - did it include anything about local policing?
SUMMERS: Yeah, so we saw the president this week sign a number of executive orders that his aides have said are aimed at dismantling systemic racism. But none of the orders that have been signed so far specifically addressed policing. We do know that during the campaign, Biden promised to address police misconduct through the Justice Department. And we should point out that his nominee to lead that department, Merrick Garland, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
CHANG: That is NPR political reporter Juana Summers.
Thank you, Juana.
SUMMERS: You're welcome.
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