Overall Findings From Messaging Research on Reimagining Public Safety

Change Research and HIT Strategies conducted a four-stage research project from September, 2021 through March, 2022 to gauge public opinion on policy proposals to reimagine public safety. The following memo outlines the researcher’s findings and recommendations for how to talk about public safety in a national context in a way that expands the coalition of support.

Key Findings

1. A majority of American voters support alternatives to policing – we just need unifying messaging in order to get through to everyone. When given the option between maximizing funding for police departments or diverting some funding to alternative first responders, education, anti-poverty, and housing, 62% of Americans prefer funding the alternatives. 60% of Americans would prefer an alternative first responder instead of a police officer to respond to substance abuse episodes. 65% would prefer an alternative first responder instead of a police officer to respond to a homeless encampment. 75% would prefer an alternative first responder instead of a police officer to respond to someone in mental or emotional distress.

2. In order to expand support for reimagining public safety, messaging needs to bridge the gap between the base supporters and people who are persuadable but need more information about the goals of the movement. 27% of Americans support “defunding the police” with no explanation or definition of the phrase, while 51% support a definition of defunding the police that explains one of its primary policy goals without using the words “defund the police.”

3. While a majority of Americans trust police to keep them safe, there are large gaps by racial group. 81% of Latinx Americans and 77% of White Americans trust the police either “a great deal” or “a moderate amount”, compared to only 54% of Black Americans (meaning, almost 1 in 2 Black Americans do not express trust in the police). We suggest focusing your messaging on the solutions (where the agreement is) rather than who to blame for the problem.

4.Demographically, the groups most supportive of reallocating money away from police budgets and towards prevention and alternatives (both “persuadables” and “base supporters”) consist of more young people (18-49), Black people, and Latinx women.

5. Our best messages…

  • Center the community and the solution, not the conflict. Talk about what does keep communities safe and articulate a positive vision for community safety.
  • Call out our reliance on the police to solve every problem. “Let’s end our over-reliance on police to fix problems that shouldn’t be their job to handle in the first place by funding better-suited first responders for certain emergencies.”
  • Argue for “common sense” solutions. “It’s just common sense that police are not the right answer to every single problem.”
  • Call for prevention instead of punishment, particularly when combating the “crime rising” narrative. If we want to actually protect people, and not just posture and signal about being tough on crime, we have to think about prevention, not punishment. We have to address the reasons for these problems instead of spending limited city budgets on flooding the streets with cops.”