Respect for local police in the United States has hit a 50-year peak, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. About three-quarters of Americans now say they have a great deal of respect for law enforcement in their community, a stark uptick from 2015, which saw Americans’ confidence in police sink to a 22-year low of 52 percent.
A number of high-profile police-involved killings of unarmed black men have helped spark a national discussion about police practices over the last couple of years. The debate this year has been fueled in part by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneels when the national anthem plays before games in order to protest policing practices he says disproportionately harm people of color.
The NFL player has gained supporters and staunch critics over his demonstration ― but although protests and broader conversations about policing have been polarizing, the new survey suggests that speaking out in favor of reform is not necessarily tied to disrespecting police officers.
Kaepernick has specifically called out the behavior of “rogue cops,” for example, saying he’s challenging a system that often protects bad officers and resists reforms to bring about transparency and accountability. And other surveys have shown that Americans tend to have more faith in police in their communities, even if they believe there are problems elsewhere in the U.S.
The increased respect for law enforcement comes at a time when many officers feel as if they’re on the defensive. Shootings of cops in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas over the summer sparked an outpouring of support for law enforcement, which Gallup notes could play a role in the apparent spike in respect among both whites and nonwhites.
A heavily armed gunman shot and killed five police officers in downtown Dallas in July, an act the city’s police chief said was revenge for police-involved shootings of nonwhites. Less than two weeks later, a shooter in Baton Rouge left three officers dead and another three wounded. Months earlier, Louisiana had passed a law making it a hate crime to target police officers and firefighters.
Respect for local cops remains divided by race, despite overall gains. White Americans, conservatives and Republicans were most likely to express respect, the survey found, with at least 80 percent of respondents from each group saying they had “a great deal” of respect for police in their area.
But some of the largest increases recorded by the survey were among nonwhites and millennials. Sixty-seven percent of nonwhites reported having a great deal of respect for local police, a 14 percent increase over October 2015. Among people aged 18 to 34, respect for law enforcement jumped by 19 percent in 2016, to a total of 69 percent.
Still, it’s unclear if the surge in respect for law enforcement in 2016 is simply a reaction to recent events, or if it’s indicative of a continuing trend, according to the poll.