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Widespread support for police reform, officers in San Antonio, new Bexar Facts poll finds

70 percent of likely Bexar County voters say protesters are peacefully speaking out against police bias

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: Join KSAT and Bexar Facts for a livestream discussion about the poll results and local policing and inequality from 6:30 p.m. till 8 p.m. on Tuesday. KSAT12 anchors will interview local leaders and community activists. Join the conversation by asking a question here. Want to take the poll or see the full results? Visit Bexar Facts’ website.

There is broad support for both local officers and police reform measures among likely voters in San Antonio, according to a newly released Bexar Facts-KSAT-Rivard Report Poll.

The findings, which come from a phone and internet survey of more than 616 likely Bexar County voters from June 10-14, line up with similar national polling that finds the appetite for police reform at an all-time high across the country. That support is largely attributed to widespread activism against systemic racism and police brutality that was sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis over a $20 counterfeit bill.

As for the protests, 70 percent of likely Bexar County voters believe that “most protesters are peacefully and lawfully trying to speak out against police violence and bias,” according to the poll, which was released Tuesday and conducted in both Spanish and English. A quarter of respondents said that “most protesters are simply looking for an excuse to loot, damage property and provoke conflicts with the police.”

Views on protesters
Views on protesters (Bexar Facts)

In San Antonio, voters generally have a positive view of local law enforcement and their response to recent protests.

Nearly 80 percent agreed that “local law enforcement responded in an appropriate manner to ensure people and property are kept safe.” Seventeen percent said they believe local police have been “unnecessarily aggressive and used excessive force on protesters.”

More than four out of five said that they feel safer when they see police officers in their neighborhood and 36 percent said that “too many local police officers are biased against African-Americans.” More than 75 percent say they approve of the job done by SAPD Chief William McManus.

“In many ways, the Bexar County data is in line with the national data – the public feels safe around police, and believes protesters have largely been peaceful and have important points to make,” said Dave Metz, president of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll for Bexar Facts. “Bexar County voters generally believe police have responded appropriately, are better trained and equipped than the Minneapolis police, have good relationships with communities of color, etc. In national polls, asking about police overall, there’s a lot more voter skepticism about police at large – but I think in many cases that comes from what people have seen happening in communities outside their own.”

However, the responses from African-Americans tended to show more concern about police conduct.

For example, 65 percent of African-American respondents agreed “too many local police officers are biased against African-Americans,” compared to only 32 percent of white respondents.

While the majority of African-Americans also agreed they feel safer when they see police in their neighborhoods (58 percent) and that local police are fair and impartial in enforcing the law (54 percent), it was still to a lesser degree than the white respondents - 82 and 69 percent, respectively.

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“I mean, there’s a real issue here,” said UTSA Professor of Public Administration Heywood Sanders in response to the poll results. “It’s not how the community as a whole necessarily perceives the police and policing here. It’s how our minority respondents see the policing job and the issue of police bias.”

Reforms

Likely Bexar County voters were asked if they supported eight general police reforms, including requiring officers to wear body cameras at all times, hiring more officers of color, requiring officers to live in the community that they police, creating citizen review boards to supervise departments, increasing de-escalation training for officers, requiring officers to submit records each time they use force or threaten to use force, requiring verbal commands before firing on a civilian and requiring officers to exhaust all alternatives before opening fire.

All eight had majority support in the poll, and six showed more than 80% support.

“The vast support for police reform is absolutely in line with national polls,” said Metz. “There is a broad, strong, and consistent sentiment in favor of all of the steps we tested in the poll – and it largely cuts across lines of ethnicity and even party.”

READ MORE: These are the police reform priorities San Antonio mayor, City Council are focusing on in response to widespread protests

Some of the reforms polled exist in some form in the San Antonio Police Department’s current contract with the city, but activists had said several of them, such as de-escalation training, need to be improved.

For example, SAPD officers are required to record interactions with the community on body cameras, de-escalation training includes verbal warnings before firing a gun, and officers must file use-of-force reports anytime they unholster a weapon, including a baton or Taser or gun. The city does have a citizen advisory board but their investigating powers are limited and their findings are non-binding.

While most voters may not know the specifics of the local police contract, the polling shows that there is widespread support for reforming police departments as the city enters contract negotiations with the San Antonio Police Officers Union in 2021.

Nearly 70 percent of likely Bexar County voters said that “police unions have been a barrier to holding local police officers accountable for misconduct,” the poll found. That echoes a statement made by SAPD Chief William McManus on KSAT earlier this month.

Views on police reforms
Views on police reforms (Bexar Facts)

While all polls have inherent blind spots, Metz said he’s confident in the results.

“We do need to view the African American numbers in our poll with caution, as they are a relatively small share of the countywide electorate and are based on an N of 37. But again, because they are consistent with lots of national data on African-American opinion, I don’t have reason to doubt the pattern that they show,” Metz said.

District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, the chairwoman of the city council’s Public Safety Committee, also noted that poll only interviewed voters, not the general public.

“I think it’s pretty accurate to say that people who are not voting sometimes are, you know, more under-served - the under-served community, and maybe lower socioeconomic standing,” Cabello Havrda said in a phone interview, “and they would have a different opinion on these types of issues.”

More results from this round of polling will be available in the coming days on KSAT.com, including approval ratings, public opinion on the pandemic and how age impacts a person’s answers. Read more about the Bexar Facts-KSAT12-Rivard Report partnership here.

We want you to join the conversation ahead of Tuesday night’s town hall. Send a video-taped question or email to news@ksat.com to have your voice heard — and maybe have your question asked on-air — or submit your question in the prompt below. (Didn’t get the phone survey but want to take the poll? See all the questions and answer them in an online survey on Bexar Facts’ website.)

Read more about Bexar Facts polling and police reform from KSAT:


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