The Justice Center recently completed a mail survey of residents in the Northeast area of Anchorage as part of an evaluation of the Weed and Seed project in that community. Weed and Seed is a federally-funded initiative aimed at using law enforcement to “weed out” violent offenders and drug dealers. Positive practices, programs, and institutions that contribute to a better quality of life for neighborhood residents are then “seeded in.” The study area is bordered by the Glenn Highway on the north, Fort Richardson on the east, Debarr Road on the south, and Bragaw Street on the west. The community has about 37,000 residents in 14,000 households, and is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of Anchorage.
Two-hundred-and-nine people responded to the survey; this was a response rate of 16.3 percent. There is no hard rule for determining an adequate response rate, but survey researchers generally agree that the bottom threshold is 50 percent. In addition, compared to the population in the study area, those who answered the survey were disproportionately female, white, childless, and retired. For both these reasons, the findings from this study must be taken with a great deal of caution.
Results from the survey were compared to those from an identical mailed community survey conducted in the same area in 2002 to assess whether there had been any changes to dimensions measured by the surveys: fear of crime, victimization experiences, satisfaction with the police and social services, and participation in neighborhood activities. Relative to 2002 (which like the present study, also had limitations associated with a low response rate and an unrepresentative sample), there was little change. In both years, a small majority of residents reported that quality of life in the neighborhood had not changed in the past two years, but close to 80 percent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the neighborhood as a place to live.
Victimization was low in both years, with 15–20 percent reporting a burglary in the previous two years, and under five percent reporting having been a victim of robbery, simple assault, or assault with a weapon. There was little change in evaluations of police activity from 2002 to 2008. Most residents said they didn’t know whether the police were doing a good job controlling the use and sale of illegal drugs, or whether the police were responsive to community concerns. This indicates an overall lack of awareness of police activity. Yet when it came to evaluating the police on their ability to keep order in the neighborhood, half of the sample in both 2002 and 2008 thought the police were doing a “good job” or a “very good job.” About 80 percent in both years said they had seen a police car driving through the neighborhood in the past month. In both years, residents were unlikely to report having a conversation with a police officer, seeing an officer patrolling the alleys or backs of buildings, or walking around or standing on patrol in the neighborhood. In 2008, as well as in 2002, few residents said they had been involved in neighborhood activities (an anti-drug rally, vigil, or march, or citizen patrol or neighborhood watch), but about a third reported participating in a neighborhood clean-up project.
Overall, there were few significant differences between the survey findings in 2002 and in 2008. However, respondents in 2008 were significantly less likely, compared to the 2002 respondents, to report that they thought the police were doing a very poor job controlling the street sale and use of illegal drugs in the neighborhood. Another significant improvement, though perhaps not attributable to the Weed and Seed initiative, was a 10 percent increase (47.8 percent in 2002 to 58.6 percent in 2008) in residents who said they were somewhat or very satisfied with snow removal. The complete survey report is available online on the Justice Center website (http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/).
Sharon Chamard is an Assistant Professor with the Justice Center.