The City of Poughkeepsie Police Department is striving to improve community relations. To this end, a few thousand residents are receiving surveys to fill out anonymously.
Some 3,000 randomly selected households are on the receiving end of a survey, in both English and Spanish, developed by Poughkeepsie police officers and Marist College, to gauge how people feel about police and community relations. Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison, a former police officer, says residents will fill out the surveys anonymously and send them back to Marist to be tabulated.
“And we’ll be able to see what people have to say about the department, the community,” Rolison says. “And then we can tailor and work with our training staff to see what we can do to address the concerns of the public,” Rolison says.
He believes Poughkeepsie, a city of some 32,000 residents, is the first in the state to incorporate the surveys into procedural justice.
“Well, we believe we are the first department in the state to do the external survey of 3,000 households, do the internal anonymous survey of our own City of Poughkeepsie police officers and then adjust training,” Rolison says. “There are some departments adjust training, if needed. And there will be an adjustment. There has to be. There are some departments, a handful, I understand, have done the training, they’ve done the procedural justice training, but they haven’t done the survey. To me, you’ve got to the survey.”
Poughkeepsie Police Chief Thomas Pape:
“Because if the public views us as being legitimate, our crime rate is going to go down, and we’ll just have better community-police relationships,” Pape says. “Our actions need to be legitimate to the public. It’s all about transparency, and legitimacy.”
He says the questions were guided by some out-of-state departments, such as Chicago, that have embarked on similar initiatives. Pape gives a generic example of one of the 35 or so survey questions.
“If you’ve had contact with the police, how would you rate that contact? Poor, good, fair, excellent, etcetera,” says Pape.
Assistant professor Dr. Frank Merenda says the Marist Center for Social Justice Research will analyze the data and share results with the Poughkeepsie Police Department. He says the hope is for a good response rate.
“It really depends on, because they’re breaking it up by ward, and so, first, we’re interested that we get equal representation from each ward, so we’ll be doing a weekly tally in order to see if one in particular ward is not returning as much as the other. But the plan is to let the police department know that and, hopefully, be able to send out more surveys,” Merenda says. “So that’s really the priority, that’s there an equal representation across the City of Poughkeepsie.”
Rolison says the effort grew out of the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
“And while certainly there are interactions with police officers that one side or the other is not happy of how it may go, but I feel that we have a really good relationship with this community,” Rolison says. “That’s how I feel. I want to know that. The department wants to know that because if there’s things that we need to do, we’re going to do it. I’m going to do it.”
“I think we do a good job,” Pape says. “I think the officers do a good job. I think they do a great job, but you can always do better.”
Pape says the police department is budgeted for 92 officers. He would like to allow for more community policing once he hits that number.
“I wish the officers, because we’re down right now, I have six officers in the academy. I still have eight vacancies, so we’re down a considerable amount. If I can that number back up to 92, I would like to see the officers spend more time on foot in the neighborhoods, and that’s all the neighborhoods,” says Pape. “And, I’d like the officers to have a little more time to get out of the radio car and maybe get on bicycles. The reality is, we just don’t have the manpower for that right now.”
He says the cost of the survey mailing is up to $8,000 and the city is getting financial help from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Rolison envisions expanding community surveys to other city departments, such as the Department of Public Works, Fire Department, and even the mayor’s office.