A telephone survey conducted by the Justice Center in spring 2002 revealed widespread satisfaction with policing in Anchorage. In particular, those survey participants who perceived a police presence in their neighborhood and those who perceived the police as involved in community policing registered very solid levels of satisfaction. Further, the general level of satisfaction expressed was somewhat higher than that registered from 12 other municipalities participating in a similar study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is the third article in a series describing the data from the Justice Center survey.
The AACVS survey was administered over the telephone to one individual in each of the randomly selected households in Anchorage. In all, 781 residents participated in the AACVS, for a cooperation rate of 60 percent. (Additional information about the research methodology can be found in the Winter 2003 issue of the Alaska Justice Forum or in the full report currently available through the Justice Center.)
In the following summary, AACVS findings are compared at various points to findings from a similar victimization survey conducted in 1998 in 12 other U.S. cities. Comparisons are only presented when the questions from the two surveys are similar. Although the instrument used in each study was largely the same, several key differences in methodological approaches should be noted. First, the 12-city study findings were for all household members age 16 years and older, while the AACVS is an adult (18 and older) victimization survey. Second, the 12-city study was conducted in 1998, four years before the administration of the AACVS. Comparisons should be made with care, since firm conclusions are not possible.
Contact with Police
Respondents to the AACVS were asked whether they had any contact with the local police during the 12 months preceding the interview. Nearly half of all respondents (49.3%) indicated that they had contact with the police for one reason or another. Reasons for contact involve circumstances such as experiencing a traffic stop/traffic violation, calling to report a crime, providing information to police, working with the police to resolve a problem, and having a casual conversation with a police officer. The likelihood of contact was approximately the same regardless of the respondent’s demographic characteristics. Age was the only characteristic where contact significantly varied. While approximately 52.4 percent of the 603 respondents between the ages of 18 and 54 had contact, only 37.4 percent of the 163 respondents over the age of 55 had any contact during the previous 12 months.
Researchers asked respondents a number of questions regarding police activities in their neighborhood. They were asked to judge whether the level of police presence in their neighborhood had changed during the previous year. Table 1 shows that most respondents (68.7%) reported no change in the level of police presence, while a smaller proportion reported either an increase (11.5%) or a decrease (4.8%) in presence. Approximately 15 percent (15.1%) indicated that they never see police in their neighborhood.
In comparison of the AACVS findings to the 12-city study, two things stand out. First, the results of the two surveys are quite similar when it comes to the percent of residents observing no change or a decrease in police presence. Second, a greater percentage of Anchorage residents reported never seeing police in their neighborhood (15% compared to 5% in the 12-city study), and a smaller percentage reported an increase in police presence (11.5% compared to 23%).
Respondents were asked to indicate the types of activities they saw the police engaging in within their neighborhood during the preceding year (except for the 114 residents who reported never seeing police in their neighborhood). The results are presented in Table 2. The responses included: talking with residents (32.1%), getting involved with kids (18.6%), opening substations (9.9%), facilitating crime watch/prevention activities (9.7%), attending community meetings (7.2%), and talking with businesses (4.8%). Nearly a quarter of respondents (23.7%) reported seeing police doing other activities— most commonly, patrol. In each case, the percentages are below the percentages from the 12-city study. However, a large share of respondents in Anchorage (37.2%) indicated that they had not seen police engaging in any activities, despite the fact that they were able to comment on the level of police presence in the neighborhood.
Interviewers asked respondents to specify whether the local police department was doing community policing. A definition of community policing was provided to the respondent: “Community policing involves police officers working with the community to address the causes of crime in an effort to reduce the problems themselves and the associated fear, through a wide range of activities.” About 1 in 5 residents (20.7%) said that their local department was doing community policing and another 6.9 percent indicated that the department was doing community policing somewhat. About half (51.7%) of AACVS respondents stated that their department was not doing community policing. The remaining respondents did not know or refused to answer.Of the 216 residents who said that their department was doing community policing (yes or somewhat), most knew that the police were doing so because they saw police actually engaging in activities such as attending community meetings, working with businesses, increasing foot/vehicle/bike patrols, increasing presence in high-crime areas, increasing traffic stops, running youth programs, and conducting crime prevention activities.
Additional questions were directed at the other 565 respondents – those who indicated that the police were not doing community policing, who didn’t know, or who refused to answer. Asked whether they wished the police were doing community policing, 56 percent of these respondents (n=317) answered positively. These 317 respondents were then asked about the types of activities they wished police would engage in. The most common response was for police to increase the number of officers (43.5% of those wishing department did community policing). Other responses included having the police work with the community (30.6%), work with children (17.4%), conduct home security checks (9.1%), assign same officers to the neighborhood (6.6%), and clean up the streets (5.4%). Nearly 35 percent (34.7%) of respondents wished police were doing some other activity: enforcing speed limits, being more visible, or attending community meetings.
Satisfaction with Police Serving Neighborhood
As is the case in most studies of public satisfaction with the police, residents of the municipality revealed a high level of satisfaction with the police who serve their neighborhood. Of the 781 respondents to the AACVS, 22 percent were very satisfied with the local police while another 59.5 percent were satisfied. Only about 10 percent of respondents (n=81) indicated that they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the police. An additional 63 respondents did not know, had no opinion, or refused to provide an answer to the question.
Of the 718 respondents who expressed satisfaction or dissatisfaction, nearly 89 percent (n=637) indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the police serving their neighborhood. This figure is somewhat higher than the 85 percent of residents satisfied or very satisfied in the 12-city study. In that research, the percentage of residents expressing satisfaction (including very satisfied) ranged from 78 percent in Washington, D.C. to 97 percent in Madison, Wisconsin.
Table 3 presents the results on satisfaction with police according to demographic characteristics. While modest variations exist, there were no significant differences found with regard to sex, race, Hispanic origin, age, or income.
Although survey respondents were generally quite supportive of the police, their level of satisfaction does vary depending upon factors associated with the local police department. Citizen satisfaction is related to perceived changes in the level of police presence in their neighborhood during the preceding year. As evident in Table 4, residents reporting that police presence in their neighborhood remained the same or increased during the preceding year were significantly more satisfied with the police than were residents who reported a decrease in police presence or who indicated that they never see police in their area. In fact, the satisfaction with police scores for residents noticing an increase in police presence were three-fifths of a point higher than scores for respondents who saw a decrease in police presence.
Overall, whether respondents believed that their local police department was in fact doing community policing was related to satisfaction (Table 5). Respondents indicating that their neighborhood police department was doing community policing were more satisfied with the police than those respondents who indicated that the police were not doing community policing or were only somewhat doing community policing. The satisfaction scores differed by nearly two-fifths of a point on the four-point satisfaction scale.
This article has presented findings related to public satisfaction with the police and perceptions and awareness of police activities in Anchorage. Overall, respondents were strongly satisfied with local police. Those who observed police in their neighborhood and have not noticed a decline in police presence and those who felt that the police and community worked together tended to be more satisfied than other respondents.
A future Forum article will examine the spatial (geographic) variation in some of the findings of the 2002 survey.
Matthew Giblin is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at York College of Pennsylvania. From 2000 to 2002, he was a research associate with the Justice Center.