Most Oregonians Agree Police Departments Have a Problem but Are Split Between Reform and Radical Change

A survey of over 600 Oregonians found that 55% of the state believes police treat white people better than Black people.

Racial justice protests on May 31, 2020. (Aaron Wessling)

Despite nationally covered disputes about the Portland uprising, a new study shows Oregonians are mostly in agreement: Black Americans are disproportionately targeted by police, and policing in this country needs to change.

A survey of over 600 Oregonians conducted by the independent Portland firm DHM Research found that 55% of the state believes police treat white people better than Black people. Sixty-two percent agree that the disproportionate number of Black people killed by police is indicative of systemic problems, not just isolated incidents. In the Portland metro area, that number jumps to 72%.

An overwhelming majority of respondents—70% statewide—believe police departments need to change.

But while Oregonians agree that something should be done about police violence against Black people, there's not exactly a consensus on what that something should be.

Respondents were mostly split between reforming or overhauling the system. Thirty-nine percent said they believe the current system can be improved, while 31% hold that reformism hasn't worked and reinvention is necessary (the study's margin of error is plus or minus 2.4% to 4%).

Still, more than half of the respondents said they support shifting at least some funding from police departments to community services, as well as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, allowing citizens to sue officers in civil court, increased paperwork for use of force, and requiring officers to intervene if they witness other officers using excessive force.

Thirty-seven percent of Oregonians said they strongly or somewhat support eliminating police departments and creating an alternative—a relatively high number, considering police abolition was barely in the lexicon of mainstream white America this time last year (though abolition of the carceral state is a decades-old, international movement).

What's more, the study does not include that figure specific to Portland, where more than 400 citizens testified in favor if defunding the police, or Oregonians below the age of 18, when many of the protests in Portland and nationwide have been youth-led.

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