SURVEY: American Mayors in Favor of Policing Reforms—With Reservations

By Kenrya Rankin Jan 20, 2016

A new survey of American mayors found that they overwhelmingly support policing reform, but they have some doubts about how effectively proposed measures can be implemented.

The “2015 Menino Survey of Mayors,” released by the Boston University Initiative on Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, presents the views of 89 current mayors from cities large and small. Data was collected via individual interviews.

When it comes to policing—which has been a hot button topic in the wake of several high-profile police-involved shootings of citizens—the mayors generally support the reforms included in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Perhaps surprisingly, the findings were consistent across party lines. But the report found that many of the mayors were concerned about implementation and the financial and privacy costs they associate with those policies.

93 percent are “supportive” or “strongly supportive” of officer body-worn cameras
The mayor of “a large Midwestern city” said: “There are some issues that need to be addressed before it would be viable—some personal-security issues for people. You’re walking into their home. You’ve got the cameras. [There is] this whole issue of public records that could be asked for and privacy for individuals who may be in the middle of an event but are not guilty.” Another mayor was supportive, but worried that there will be an over-reliance on the devices, saying, “I just feel like it’s a little bit of a panacea. ‘Let’s get new body cameras. It’ll take care of everything.’ That’s the caveat.”

87 percent are for independent investigations for all police-involved shootings
The most commonly expressed worry was the matter of who would run the investigations.

85 percent support making arrest and crime demographic stats public
Some mayors thought that publishing the race and ethnicity of people arrested could “reinforce stereotyping.” The mayor of a large Western city said, “In terms of publicizing information, I think that perpetuates bigotry in the community.”

74 percent are for evaluating police departments based on their arrest and crime statistics
But some thought that putting too much emphasis on statistics could skew the purpose of the force. “I don’t think that we should be rating our police effectiveness based on the number of arrests that we make,” one Western mayor said. “I think it’s much more about building trust in the community and that’s not about arrests.” 

65 percent support civilian review boards
Mayors surveyed were concerned about the composition of the boards, with particular worry about if the members can be both unbiased and nuanced in their findings. “If it’s well crafted, it can be great. If it’s not, it could be disastrous,” one big city mayor said.

The survey also asked the mayors for their concerns related to infrastructure, poverty and inequality, housing, municipal finance and more. It was released in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, which opened today with a panel called “Reducing Violence and Strengthening Policy/Community Trust.” It featured Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whom have both faced criticism police-involved deaths in their cities.

Read the full report here