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Public Confidence in Police Drops Again After Nichols Death

Public confidence in police dropped after Tyre Nichols was fiercely beaten by officers in Memphis last month, with Americans increasingly doubtful that law enforcement officers are properly trained in using appropriate force or that they treat white and Black people equally, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. The increased skepticism about police appears to be fueled by the declining trust on the part of white and Hispanic Americans, compared with just a few years ago. For the first time since the Post-ABC poll began asking about the issue in 2014, just under half of white Americans say they are confident about police avoiding excessive force or racial bias. About two-thirds of Hispanic Americans lack confidence in police on both fronts. The poll was conducted after police stopped Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx employee, on Jan. 7 and brutally beat him. Nichols died three days later. The beating spawned local, state, and federal investigations, and five officers involved were fired and charged with second-degree murder. Video footage of the beating showed officers repeatedly hitting and kicking Nichols, leading to nationwide outrage.

The poll suggests that the Memphis case, the latest in a long line of law enforcement uses of force, many captured on video, has depressed Americans’ view of police officers. Overall, only 39 percent of Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” confident police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force, and 60 percent believe police are not. That level of confidence in the police is even lower than it was shortly after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Floyd’s death, along with the shooting death of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police that year, prompted protests and drove calls for police reform. The drops in confidence are partly driven by changing views among Republicans and older Americans, both groups that have historically expressed greater faith in police than others. Among Republicans, 60 percent are confident police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force. While that is a majority, it is down considerably from the 77 percent who felt that way in 2020. Older Americans, too, appear to have less faith in police on the issue than three years ago. Under half or 44 percent, of people age 65 and older say they are confident in police training to avoid excessive force, which is down from 55 percent in 2020.


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