Drugs should be top priority for police, survey says

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Chart ranks how public thinks police should prioritize use of their resources (Courtesy graphic)

A recent survey using direct phone contacts and a survey company shows wide community support for Rochester's Police Department, but growing concerns that drug enforcement needs to be strengthened.

From mid-April through mid-May, Rochester Police Department conducted a survey of the community's perceptions of both the police department and crime in the city in general.

The majority of responses to the survey were gathered through SurveyMonkey, the link posted to the department's Facebook and website, emailed out to individuals, and also mentioned in newspaper articles.

Some 478 responses were obtained online, and in addition to that cold calls were made via phone to 100 citizens who had recent contact with the police department. Thirty-six responses were obtained this way, giving a total of 514 individual responses.

A survey of the same material was also conducted by Rochester Police Department in 2013, which received 178 responses. This report will analyze the results of the most recent survey, compare to the results of the previous survey from 2013, and then examine how the department is moving to address the concerns of the community.

2015 Community Survey

The first question asked citizens to rank the Rochester Police Department's overall performance from one (poor) to five (very good). Overall, most responses to this question were a four or five, with an average of 4.32.

The next question in the survey was about the department's image within the community, and again asked those responding to rank RPD from a one (poor) to a five (very good) on overall image. Again, most of the responses were a four or five, with an overall average of 4.19.

Question three asked citizens to select which of the following they would like to see Rochester PD focus on more: drug enforcement, neighborhood patrols, education, traffic enforcement, downtown foot patrols, or criminal investigations. The clear top response to this was drug enforcement, followed by neighborhood patrols, and downtown foot patrols.

The final question allowed citizens to write in a response for what they believed to be the biggest law enforcement issue in the city of Rochester currently. Drugs topped this question by a wide margin, with almost ten times as many citizens citing drugs as a concern than the next most popular answer. The second and third most common responses were understaffing/need for more officers, and property crimes such as vandalism and burglary.

2013 Community Survey Comparison

The 2013 survey utilized the same four questions, and was conducted online via Facebook and the department website as well as through limited cold-calling and ward meetings. Although the 2013 survey was available for two months - twice as long as the 2015 survey - it obtained only 178 respondents.

For the first question, on the department's performance, the average rating in 2013 was 3.93 compared to 4.32 in 2015. Overall, respondents were more likely to rate Rochester Police Department's performance as a 5 (very good) in 2015, and less likely to rate it a 1 (poor), 2, or 4. The increase in the percentage of "5" responses from 34% to 43% is primarily responsible for the increase in the average score.

On the second question, regarding the department's image within the community, the average rating in 2013 was 3.93 compared to 4.19 in 2015. Overall, respondents were more likely to rate Rochester Police Department's performance as a 3 or 4 in 2015, and less likely to rate it a 1 (poor) or 2. The changes here are not as pronounced as that of the first question.

Question three asked what Rochester citizens would like to see more focus on from the department. In 2013, the top responses were neighborhood patrols, drug enforcement, and downtown foot patrols. In 2015, the top response was now drug enforcement, followed by neighborhood patrols and downtown foot patrols.

The final question allowed for write-in responses to the question "What is the number one law enforcement issue in Rochester?", and comparison of the two years is challenging due both to freedom of citizens to write in whatever the wished and to the fact that the responses to the surveys were compiled by different analysts.

However, some elements are comparable. Drugs were the top concern on both surveys, but the margin of response with that has grown by about 30%. From 2013 to 2015, one can also observe a decrease in concern about robberies, alcohol and DUI, and minor criminal matters, while there has been an increase in concerns related to the department's relationship with the community, panhandling, and the downtown area. Department understaffing was a major concern in both years.

Department Response to Community Concerns

Beginning in July 2014 and continuing in the months since, Rochester Police Department has made several changes to policies and enforcement philosophy which have had a positive impact on crime in the area so far. These changes have been responsive to concerns

from the citizens from the 2013 survey, ward meetings, and other community contacts such as Facebook and events.

First, positions were rearranged and new officers were hired and sent to the police academy for training, putting the department at full staffing for the first time in many years. The last of the new hires is not yet on patrol; however statistics for the department such as proactive time have already shown marked improvement. In May 2014, proactive calls made up 29% of the department's overall workload year to date. As of the end of May 2015, proactive calls were 40% of the department workload year to date, despite a significant increase in the number of calls.

Next, the department made changes to the overall patrol philosophy as a direct response to growing concern about drugs, and especially heroin, in the city. Under the new philosophy, the drug problem and the issue of property crime especially are related, and therefore if drug enforcement increases, other types of crime will decrease as well. To facilitate this, officers engage in targeted traffic patrols of streets and neighborhoods known for drug activity. This change was implemented on July 1, 2014, and the yearend report for 2014 saw a 5% decrease in property crime.

In 2015, Rochester has seen a 29% decrease in property crime year to date, alongside a 138% increase in drug possession arrests.

The third issue that the department addressed was citizen requests for foot patrols. One of the most common requests from the public in Rochester is a greater police presence outside of patrols cars, both in neighborhoods and the downtown area. As a result of the improvements in staffing, the department has been able to increase patrols in town both on foot and on bicycles as the weather has warmed, balancing these requests while still maintaining traffic enforcement in the designated drug enforcement areas. This initiative is still in its early stages, but will hopefully alleviate citizen's concerns and help the department to build closer bonds in the community and improve its image.

The survey was conducted by Survey Monkey.

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