The public's confidence in the Los Angeles Police Department has improved slightly over the last two years, although more than half of the city's residents believe policing remains tainted by racial bias among officers, according to a survey from Loyola Marymount University.
The survey, which was a follow-up to a similar one conducted by the university in 2020, underscored how, despite the national reckoning over policing spurred by the murder that year of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, L.A. residents remain generally supportive of the LAPD, while also making clear they do not see them as a panacea to the city's problems.
Roughly 3 of 4 respondents, for example, said seeing LAPD officers in their neighborhoods makes them feel safe, and 71% of people surveyed believed that police were "serving and protecting my neighborhood" — up from 63% in 2020. At the same time, a large majority of people said it would be better if police alone were not called on to handle calls involving vulnerable groups such as mentally ill and homeless people.
The survey was conducted with a random sample of 1,755 adult Los Angeles residents, with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points in either direction. That sampling error was larger for subgroups, particularly among Black and Asian residents because they account for small slices of the city's population.
Despite the overall approval ratings, the survey highlighted a persistent belief among Angelenos that police can be racially biased. Among white, Asian, Latino and Black respondents, more than half of the people in each group disagreed either somewhat or strongly with the idea that police officers treat all racial and ethnic groups equally. That sentiment was strongest among Black respondents, nearly two-thirds of whom believe police treat all groups unequally, according to the survey.
Relatedly, 66% of all respondents said they believe the LAPD profiles Black people more often than other groups. And about two-thirds of people surveyed said they believe police sometimes make stops without valid reasons.
The survey — conducted from March 24 to June 3 in person, online and by phone in English, Mandarin, Korean and Spanish — is the second in a series of three polls done by Loyola Marymount at the department's behest. Although the surveys are funded by the LAPD, the university conducts them independently and without any input from LAPD officials.
Fernando Guerra, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles, explained the dissonance between the overall positive approval numbers and the claims of bias by pointing out the survey results offer only a snapshot of people's perceptions of law enforcement. As such, he said, the survey is one data point of many that should inform police commissioners' decision making.
The findings on bias echoed a 2019 Times investigation that found the LAPD’s elite Metropolitan Division stopped Black drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the city's population. A follow-up investigation showed that Black and Latino people were searched far more often than white people during vehicle stops, even though white people were more likely to be found with illegal items. Black and Latino motorists were more likely than white drivers to be stopped for an equipment violation, such as a broken taillight or tinted windows. They were also far more likely to be removed from their vehicles, handcuffed and detained on a curb.
The survey found that 42% of respondents believe they can trust the LAPD to do the right thing “most of the time,” while about one-third of residents said this was so “only some of the time," and 9% said “none of the time.”
By comparison, respondents had more faith in their neighbors than the police to do the right thing, but had less trust in “city government” or “the media.” Police unions also scored lower than the LAPD.
On the question of police use of force, about 55% of respondents said they believe police officers use the amount of force required, while 45% disagreed. More than 4 in 10 said police officers are held accountable when they step out of line.
The results come amid rising violence in certain parts of the city, which has become a central theme in the ongoing mayoral election. Department figures show that while the city has logged roughly the same number of homicides so far this year as last year, the rate of killing is considerably higher than in 2019. Overall violent crime is up slightly citywide year-over-year, in large part because of an increase in armed robberies, the department said.
Both candidates for mayor, U.S. Rep Karen Bass and real estate developer Rick Caruso, have called for growing the LAPD. Bass has said the department should add about 500 officers to reach its authorized size of 9,700 cops, while Caruso wants to make the LAPD a force of 11,000 officers.
Those ambitions are somewhat at odds with the survey's findings, which showed Angelenos are strongly in favor of bringing in trained professionals who are better equipped than police to handle calls involving unhoused people, mentally ill individuals and those grappling with substance abuse.
Around 60% of respondents said they supported the idea of mixed teams of police and non-police professionals responding to such calls. In 2020, 53% of respondents favored pairing officers with mental health workers. This year, that number grew to 64%.
The survey found similar growing support for mixed teams in cases of sexual assault, neighbor disputes and substance abuse, but found fewer people favored sending such units to crimes such as shootings and burglaries.
Asked whether they supported a broader proposal to "defund the police," however, a strong majority — nearly 69% — said they were either strongly or somewhat opposed to the idea.
The overall optimism captured in the Loyola survey was higher than the sentiment recorded in another poll released this year. That poll, conducted by UC Berkeley and The Times, featured different questions but showed that support for the department was even lower than shortly after the police beating of Rodney King in 1991. And yet, while city voters reported serious concerns about the LAPD, they showed little interest in shrinking its size amid worries over rising crime.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission that he was heartened by the findings in the Loyola survey, considering a general "decline in trust in institutions.”
“I do believe that officers' work and that this commission and this department has had an impact on the overall sentiment of safety,” he said. At the same time, he said, he recognized that there's doubt in some residents' minds about “whether LAPD can be entrusted to act in an unbiased and fair manner.”
“There’s concerns about whether or not we’re gonna treat people fairly,” he said.
Times senior editor David Lauter contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.