How do you feel about cops? Lansing is paying $75K to find out.

City Councilman: Online surveys fail to generate meaningful results

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FRIDAY, June 19 — Results of an online survey show that about two-thirds of local residents who responded to the survey said they feel safe in the capital city and trust the Lansing Police Department. But exactly what local officials plan to do with that information is yet to be seen.

The city of Lansing shelled out about $75,000 to generate that statistic over the last eight months through a contract with Elucd, a Brooklyn-based tech startup that co-developed a sort of sentiment meter that gauges how residents feel about local public safety on a monthly basis.

Schor’s administration started working with Elucd last fall, shortly after the violent arrest of two Black teenagers rattled the community and sparked protests against police brutality at City Hall. About $75,000 of the $100,000 annual contract — which is paid through proceeds of the recent sale of a city parking ramp — is designed to collect opinions about the efficacy of local cops.

“It’s to see the level of faith that the citizens of Lansing have in our Police Department,” Schor told City Pulse. “Social media allows you to hear from more than just the 20 or 30 people you would get at a town hall. It’s always very important to hear from the community.”

The survey is promoted on Facebook, as well as other social media channels, and appears in users’ feeds like any other sponsored advertisement. And it’s intentionally designed to appear as though the survey isn’t being conducted by the city itself. Officials wanted honest opinions.

The city hasn’t publicly released any of the results since the program’s inception, but the Mayor’s Office provided details to City Pulse upon request last week. It’s unclear how many users responded to the surveys, and the data itself doesn’t lead to any particular conclusions.

Since last October, those that responded to the survey — on a scale of 1-100 — had ranked “safety” between 65 and 67. “Trust” was ranked between 66 and 72, with its highest ratings over the last two months. The “number one issue or problem” mentioned by respondents last month was streets and traffic, followed by theft, burglary and break-ins, policing issues and drugs.

Schor said the data will be compared against national averages to determine how the Lansing Police Department compares to other cities across the country, including Grand Rapids. The plan, he said, is to gather the results and announce them to the public, likely in a press release.

The data is also being shared with Schor’s office and the Board of Police Commissioners, which meets later tonight. But what exactly happens from there? Schor couldn’t offer many specifics.

“This information is actionable, but we have to have a baseline before we are able to take big action. It’s not easy to get a full picture of how a community feels through traditional town halls or gatherings, and this use of technology is allowing us to reach many more people in the city. This is about broadening resident input and looking at their input over time. This is another tool to help us understand the tone across the city, rather than the vocal few,” a spokeswoman said.

The New York Police Department also informally introduced the same public opinion monitor last April, according to reports from The Marshall Project. Precincts there now receive a monthly “trust score” along with rankings that measure overall satisfaction with police performance.

Some police departments have used the survey tool to target gimmicky events, like backpack giveaways, in precincts with lower-than-average trust scores. Grand Rapids reportedly uses the results to assign more foot, bike and horse patrols to neighborhoods with negative perceptions.

Others have expressed several concerns about how to effectively use the information. The meter was first shown to NYPD precinct commanders in 2017, but many mid-level police supervisors haven’t figured out what to do with the data since, reports the Marshall Project.

The data in Lansing is broken down by four law enforcement areas, but the scores over the last eight months hardly vary by a few points between each location — and certainly not enough to spot any problem areas within the city. Some have suggested the surveys are a waste of cash, especially with a growing call to divert police funding into more community-based programming.

“Obviously, this survey is a waste of money,” said Councilman Brandon Betz, when asked about his opinion on the surveys. “It’s not telling us anything meaningful, so why are we paying for it?”

Recent weeks have seen a growing call for racial equity in Lansing, protests against police brutality and calls to defund police departments as a national institution, which since its inception has disproportionately targeted and killed Black and brown people across the country.

The Elucd surveys in Lansing — which don’t collect any data on racial demographics — were launched several months before George Floyd’s death. And with 22.3% of the population being African American, every Black respondent, at least theoretically, could’ve responded negatively to the online survey to achieve the same results that were released by the city earlier this week.

“If it wasn’t worth the money, then we don’t renew the contract,” Schor later told City Pulse.

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Trust

67

66

66

67

67

69

71

72

Safety

66

65

66

66

65

65

66

67

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