A few months after posting an anonymous online survey, the Auburn Police Department has received its first official feedback from the community.
Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler said he decided to post two surveys in an effort to develop a strategic plan for the department.
First, in April, Butler and a team from Syracuse University created an employee survey that went out to all officers at APD. Then, in July, the department issued a public survey online.
The community web-based survey consisted of 21 questions: five questions requested demographic information, 14 questions were close-ended and two were open-ended. The close-ended questions used a rating scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) while the open-ended questions asked respondents to characterize the department in three words and to offer suggestions for improvement.
"We want to come up with a specific goal in order to create a road map for us going forward, and in order to do that we need to see what our employees think and then what the public feels — where we're doing well and where they feel that we're lacking," Butler said. "This is the first time that we've done something like this at the police department in my history, so I think it's very important to get input from everybody."
But Butler said the department didn't really receive the response it was hoping for.
According to the results from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, 662 residents completed most or all of the survey; of those 662 respondents, 93 percent identified as white.
Butler said he was disappointed by those results as the department was looking to get a "good cross section" of the city's demographic. He said the department even extended the deadline and worked with the Human Rights Commission and Harriet Tubman Social Justice Task Force to try to get the minority community more involved.
"Unfortunately, if you look at the demographics, I don't think we hit our goal," he said. "A small percentage identified as minority. That's unfortunate because we need everybody's input."
Keeping that in mind, Butler said he was pleased with the overall sentiment from the community, as 70 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that APD ensures a safe environment, respects individuals' rights and treats people fairly. In addition, nearly 70 percent of the words used to describe the department were positive, including words like "professional, friendly, honest, brave and responsive."
But there was some room for improvement, as roughly 60 percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that APD performs an appropriate amount of foot patrols; 20 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.
Butler said the need for more foot traffic seems to be an overall sentiment nationwide.
"In the early 1990s, there was some major grant funding that supported (community policing) and I think it had excellent results," he said. "But as time goes on, that funding dries up, your calls for service go up and the guys and girls are locked in their cars going from call to call to call. So trying to find that balance of getting time to be more proactive than reactive is what I'm struggling with."
The Maxwell School also said it was unclear how the public felt about the department's openness to input, communication, explanation of actions and handling of calls. It recommended that APD should further investigate their effectiveness in those areas.
Lastly, there were some concerns about enforcement in the open-ended section of the survey, including complaints about lax traffic patrols and drug dealers in the area. There were also some negative words used to describe the department, including "incompetent, arrogant, lazy and racist."
"Are we perfect? Absolutely not, and I don't think anybody would say that we are," Butler said. "But we are pretty good."
Going forward, the police chief said he would like to find an outside facilitator to analyze the results and develop a strategic plan for the department.
"Our motto is, 'Expect excellence,'" Butler added. "I want the public to expect that from us. ... We're human and we make mistakes, but I want to take us to that next level."