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The City Is Polling People On Their Feelings On Police, But Can It Lead To Change?

Police brass said they want to use the survey data to make positive changes to the department, but critics are skeptical it can be used to build trust with communities.

A protester holds up a sign memorializing George Floyd outside the Chicago Police Academy in June.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Following a year where protests against police spread across the country and civil unrest reached levels not seen since the ’60s, the Chicago Police Department has launched an online tool to poll the public on their feelings about the police.

The Chicago Police Sentiment Dashboard program went live Thursday. It is powered by an online survey targeted to residents who can answer anonymously, giving feedback on the Chicago Police Department, safety in their neighborhoods and the city’s coronavirus response. The dashboard breaks the answers into two averages for each police district residents live in: one based on level of trust and the other on level of safety.

Police brass said they want to use the data to make positive changes to the department, but critics are skeptical the tool can be used to build trust with communities.

The Police Department partnered with Brooklyn-based tech company Elucd for the pilot program, which cost $220,000 annually for three years and was paid for by Chicago CRED, the Joyce Foundation and the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, according to police spokesman Howard Ludwig.

Residents are targeted to complete the survey through ads online, said Elucd Chief Operating Officer Sujeet Rao. The survey, which is composed of 17 questions, has two questions about the pandemic, six about policing issues and the remainder are demographic-related. Respondents, who are anonymous, are asked to enter their ZIP codes. That’s used to map responses by police district and neighborhood.

Since the pilot began in November 2017, more than 63,000 residents have taken the survey, or 1,500-2,000 every month, Rao said. 

“We collect fresh survey scores every month and then base the scores on the dashboard on several months of data, usually three months of data,” Rao explained.

Rao said his company’s contract for the pilot program expires at the end of the year, but Ludwig said the funding for the program is included in the 2021 police budget.

It is unknown how much the Chicago Police Department may have to pay Elucd going forward. But the New York Police Department had a $4.1 million four-year contract with the company, which it scrapped after a year, saying it was not the right tool for them. 

Polling Police Trust

For the pilot, the citywide average for how safe residents felt in their neighborhood came in at 55 out of 100 (with 0 equalling not safe at all and 100 feeling completely safe), and the citywide average for police trust was rated an average of 65 out of 100.

The results varied based on neighborhood and type of respondent.

In a heavily white area that included parts of Portage Park and Forest Glen, the police trust average was 72 and neighborhood safety averaged 61. In Austin, which is 83 percent Black, the police trust average was 52 and neighborhood safety averaged 47.

One unresolved issue with the polling remains how to reach residents without a computer or Internet access, as less than 40 percent of school-aged children in Englewood, Auburn Gresham and North Lawndale — neighborhoods with large Black populations — have broadband access, while the city’s predominantly white neighborhoods show connectivity rates greater than 90 percent, according to research put out in April by Kids First Chicago and the Metropolitan Planning Council. 

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes some of the poorest areas on the West Side, said Thursday he hadn’t even heard about the dashboard.

Asked to comment on the results so far, Ervin said, “It’s tough to say, not knowing the sample size.” 

In addition to asking survey takers to give a score from 0 to 10 on safety and police trust, the survey form allows for written questions asking what a resident’s top concern is in their neighborhood, what other concerns they’d like to see police address and how they’d like the see police engage “more deeply” with the community.

Police said they will analyze the feedback from the survey to inform policies and practices — something that has been mandated by the federal government consent decree that went into effect in February 2019.

However, Black Lives Matter activist Ja’Mal Green thinks the survey is focusing on the wrong goal.

“The goal should not be building trust with police. The goal should be how do we attack the real problems to make it to where police do not have to interact as much on an aggressive level with the community,” Green said. “No matter what the Police Department does to try to build trust with the Black community at this point, it’s not going to work.

“There will always be distrust in the Police Department until we start to invest in neighborhoods and make it to where police officers aren’t responding to mental health crimes, responding to homeless calls.”

Roseanna Ander, founding executive director University of Chicago Crime Lab, said it’s important not to expect any one step to be a magic bullet to fix problems in the department. She applauded the polling effort.

“I think it’s important to recognize the true crisis that we’re in as a city and a country and not expect any one system to be able to solve all of the challenges,” Ander said. “I think it’s really critically important that police departments do everything they can to understand community sentiment and the perspectives of the constituents that they are supposed to serve and protect. I commend CPD for doing this.”

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to a request for comment.

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