March 26th, 2024 7 Minute Read Issue Brief by Jesse Arm

Assessing Crime in Chattanooga Survey Analysis of City Residents on Public Safety, Policing, and Policy Reforms

Between February 10th and 13th, the Manhattan Institute polled a representative sample of 550 residents of Chattanooga, Tennessee, on their feelings about public safety, policing, policy proposals aimed at curbing crime, and the state of their city.

The survey was conducted based on a sample drawn from the Tennessee state voter file, then weighted back to the population on gender, age, race, and education. Results were collected using mixed methods, including live landline calls (20%), live cell calls (30%), and SMS-to-web messages (50%).

The results suggest broad—cross-party and cross-demographic—consensus among the southern boomtown’s residents that public safety is a major concern, the situation is getting worse, and both increased numbers of police and tougher enforcement should be a part of the solution.

Full Results Available: Toplines, Crosstabs, Key Findings Deck

Trust Levels

Chattanoogans maintain a high level of trust with respect to their fellow city dwellers. Seven-in-ten Chattanooga residents feel that people in their community are generally trustworthy (Figure 1); eight-in-ten that they are generally willing to help their neighbors. This is relatively consistent across demographics.

Figure 1

Trust Levels in Chattanooga

Crime and Public Safety

And yet, there is deep and widespread concern about public safety in Chattanooga. More than three quarters of respondents perceive crime to be a major issue both in their city and across the country (Figure 2). This worry spans across demographic and party lines. Seven-in-ten Democrats say they are concerned about public safety in the city. Eight-in-ten black residents feel the same.

Figure 2

Crime and Public Safety as Major Issues

A third of Chattanooga residents feel unsafe when shopping, even during the daytime. Just over a fifth feel unsafe in their local park (Figure 3). This is by no means a purely partisan issue. For example, half of Democrats say they feel unsafe downtown at night (Figure 4). While white people are more likely to feel unsafe when downtown, black people are more likely to feel unsafe in every other environment.

Figure 3

Where Residents Feel Unsafe During the Daytime

Figure 4

Where Residents Feel Unsafe Late at Night

The public feels that this problem is getting worse. Half of Chattanooga residents say that there is more violent crime now than there was in 2020; just 10% say there is now less (Figure 5). While Republicans are most likely to think crime has worsened, this is an issue that crosses partisan lines: half of independents and more than four-in-ten Democrats agree that levels of crime have increased.

Figure 5

Perception of Change in Violent Crime

Policing and Prosecution

There is widespread agreement around the need for increased police numbers in Chattanooga and across the country. Only around one-in-ten say the number of police should be reduced. Black residents of the city are especially likely to support police numbers being increased (Figure 6).

Figure 6

More or Fewer Police Officers?

Majorities of Chattanooga residents say that shootings, stabbings, muggings, and theft are big issues in the city and that these crimes should be met with police arrest. A majority in the city also feel that homeless encampments in public spaces—like sidewalks or parks—are a big issue, but tend to think that those who engage in this activity should not be arrested for it (Figure 7). This is true even though a clear margin (54% to 28%) of Chattanooga residents—including 36% of Democrats—think homeless people should not be allowed to sleep in public places. The Chattanooga public are split on whether graffiti and public urination, which they view as smaller issues, should be met with arrest.

Figure 7

Crimes Chart: Perceived Severity of Issue vs. Need for Arrest

When probed explicitly on their feelings about police enforcement against “minor” offences like graffiti, public urination, littering, and homeless encampments, the Chattanooga public is divided. A plurality of 47% believe this kind of policing is good because it makes everyone—including those in disadvantaged communities—safer and more secure, but 40% instead think of this approach as bad because it tends to unfairly punish people in those disadvantaged communities. This is an issue that divides along partisan lines: eight-in-ten Republicans view this type of policing as good, while six-in-ten Democrats view it as bad (Figure 8).

Figure 8

Police Enforcement of Graffiti, Public Urination, Littering, and Homeless Encampments

A plurality of Chattanooga residents also opposes the approach taken by many self-described “progressive” prosecutors. Overall, 47% of the population expressed skepticism about those officials who have been elected on platforms of prosecuting fewer drug, property, and weapons offenses in the name of combatting racial inequality. By contrast, 38% of Chattanoogans said they support this approach (Figure 9). This is another issue that splits the city along roughly partisan lines.

Figure 9

Perception of “Progressive” Prosecutors

Legislative Reform

There is firm and widespread agreement that tougher legislation is needed with respect to how Tennessee deals with offenders convicted of violent crimes: seven-in-ten say as much—including more than six-in-ten Democrats—with fewer than one-in-five disagreeing (Figure 10).

Figure 10

Dealing with Convicted Violent Offenders

Similarly, there is clear majority agreement on the need for tougher sentencing laws. Two thirds of Chattanooga residents (including six-in-ten Democrats) support Tennessee’s 2022 “Truth in Sentencing” law (Figure 11). Seven-in-ten (again, including six-in-ten Democrats) also support toughening the state’s existing “Three-Strikes” law (Figure 12).

Figure 11

“Truth in Sentencing” Law

Figure 12

“Three Strikes Law” Proposal

Photo: halbergman/iStock/Getty Images Plus


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