Residents polled on Milwaukee police; racial perception divide

A new poll released Wednesday, June 16 shows a sharp divide in opinions about the Milwaukee Police Department along racial lines.

The poll, conducted by Boston's Suffolk University in partnership with USA Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the first in a series that the particular polling group is looking at – shining a light on Milwaukee police to start.

According to the poll, MPD has a public image problem; the results show stark differences in perceptions of the department along race lines.

Milwaukee Police Administration Building

David Paleologo said his team conducted telephone interviews with 500 Milwaukee residents in early June, reaching adults in each of the city's aldermanic districts. When asked to rate MPD, 61% rated police as either fair or poor. However, when broken down by race, 81% of Black residents gave MPD low marks.

"A lot of work to be done in terms of the perception side," Paleologos said. "When you are interacting in a neighborhood, one-on-one with a police officer, people generally say they had a good experience. But the perceptions leading into this poll and the actual problems – it doesn’t erase the problems police have presently."

Milwaukee police line do not cross

When asked their views on police in general, 63% of residents said MPD does a good job and treats people of different races fairly. Meanwhile, 71% of Black residents said they are treated differently by police based on their race.

"I’m feeling pretty bullish about Milwaukee long-term. Right now, it’s a challenging position to be in," said Paleologos.

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In response, Milwaukee police point out that the same poll indicates that residents oppose defunding police by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. In a statement, the department added: 

"The Milwaukee Police Department fully recognizes that there are still opportunities to improve and remains committed to working with our community and system partners to continue to build sustainable neighborhoods free of crime that are built on positive relationships."

Some have pointed out that the 500-person sample size seems small. By comparison, a Marquette University Law School poll before the presidential election sampled 806 registered voters across the entire state of Wisconsin.

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