Detroit residents' trust in police shaped by history of police contact

March 5, 2024

Detroit residents who have had any type of contact with police are more critical of police than people who have no contact with police, according to a survey of Detroit residents from the University of Michigan.

U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study surveyed residents about their personal experiences with police in July 2020, shortly after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. DMACS surveyed a representative sample of Detroit residents, and results have been weighted to reflect the population of the city of Detroit.

The survey asked about three types of interactions with police: forceful contact, nonforceful contact and no contact in the last year. Detroiters commented on their personal experiences as well as the experiences of their family and acquaintances, referred to as proximate contact. A new report analyzing the survey data found 37% of residents had personal or proximate contact with police.

Two percent of Detroit residents reported personal experiences with forceful police contact in the last year. Given Detroit’s total adult population estimate in 2020, this translates to about 8,755 adult residents experiencing forceful contact for the year. When including proximate contact, 17% of Detroiters either personally experienced or knew someone who experienced forceful police contact.

There are no significant racial differences among residents who experience personal or proximate forceful contact from the police, and there are no differences in experience of forceful police contact among Detroiters of different income levels, education levels and age cohorts. Women are less likely than men to report exposure to forceful police contact.

While any type of police contact correlated with more critical views of police, Detroiters who have had forceful contact with police tend to be even more critical of police than those with nonforceful contact.

Fifty-six percent of those who experienced forceful contact with police disagree that police are doing a good job protecting them and their neighborhood versus 33% of those with nonforceful contact and 22% of those with no police contact. Fifty percent of those with forceful contact disagree that police can be trusted in comparison to 27% of those with nonforceful contact and 19% of those with no contact.

“The similarities in views between residents who have experienced forceful and nonforceful contact with police suggests any type of contact with police may be enough to change people’s views on policing,” said Lauren Chojnacki, a research associate with DMACS who authored the report.

The survey analysis also found age is an important factor in determining Detroiters’ views toward police, especially among those who have experienced forceful contact. Detroiters aged 18-30 tend to hold more negative views toward the police than older Detroiters. Young Detroiters who experienced forceful police contact are more than twice as likely to disagree that the police are doing a good job in comparison to young Detroiters with no police contact (80% compared to 36%).

These survey findings add to a previous analysis of a DMACS survey on residents’ views on crime and policing conducted in summer 2021. That survey found 42% of residents said greater police presence in their neighborhood would make them feel safer, while 10% said more police in their neighborhood would make them feel less safe.

“There’s a simultaneous desire for police reform and favorable public opinion regarding police,” Chojnacki said “There’s a tension among residents who want both change in a system and the security and protection experienced within that system.”

Read the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study report here

Written and published by University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions