- What is a community satisfaction survey?
- Building your community satisfaction survey
- Examples of questions to ask in citizen satisfaction surveys
Law enforcement agencies often have to maintain channels for ongoing communication with the public. One of the most important channels is community feedback surveys.
Police-community interaction surveys show police departments how the local community feels about their level of service. It can also give police leadership an idea of how to improve those relationships.
In this article, we'll discuss how community satisfaction surveys work, how to build them, why knowing your audience is important, and what kinds of questions you should ask in your surveys.
What is a community satisfaction survey?
A community satisfaction survey assesses the opinions and attitudes of residents about the performance of their local police department. It asks questions about the department's quality of service, each person's overall satisfaction with the department, their perceptions of crime and safety, and their level of confidence in the police.
Surveys are disseminated and conducted via paper, phone, text, or online. Questions are usually answered on a 5-point scale, called a Likert scale, and include options like “strongly agree,” “agree,” “neutral,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” Or they ask subjects to rate something "with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best."
Police-community interaction surveys gather feedback from a statistically representative sample of local residents. You don't need to ask everyone in the community, but you need enough people representing your community's demographic makeup, including age, race, and nationality. By getting results from this cross-section of the community, you can get a good idea of how the community feels as a whole. The results help identify strengths and areas of improvement and provide better insight into the community's needs.
With this information, department leadership can better understand the quality of police services and find areas of community policing to improve. Best of all, the surveys offer opportunities for community engagement, which can go a long way toward building and improving trust in the community.
Building your community satisfaction survey
When building your citizen satisfaction survey, you first need to determine the objective of the survey. What do you want to know? What are you hoping to measure?
Some of the areas you can measure include:
- Overall satisfaction
- Trust and confidence
- Quality of service
- Perceptions of safety
- Bias and fairness
- Use of force
- Community engagement
Decide what you want to measure. Do you want an objective, quantitative survey where questions have a limited number of choices, like the 5-point Likert scale?
Or do you want a qualitative, open-ended survey with questions like, "What are some of the most important characteristics a police officer should have?" or "What are some areas of improvement you would suggest for this department?" Survey takers can type in their answers.
You also want to know who your audience is. This means knowing the demographics of your city. Your questions should fit who you are speaking to and meet your audience where they are. This means sending surveys with the method your community is most likely to use in their daily life.
That also means collecting demographic data on your surveys. This way, you can understand how different groups within the community feel about your department and their experiences with your officers. You can segment responses by various demographic factors to measure the satisfaction of each group.
Finally, decide on the medium for delivering your community satisfaction surveys. A mix of platforms is ideal – some are easier and inexpensive, while others are more thorough and yield more complete results.
For example, you can deliver short surveys via phone and text, but they need to be brief. You can also ask people to fill out a survey online or through paper-and-pen surveys sent via mail.
It's best to use a variety of approaches to maximize the amount and quality of responses to get back. Use pen-and-paper surveys when you want to hear from your less tech-savvy citizens, and send automated text surveys when you want real-time information about interactions with your department.
Examples of questions to ask in citizen satisfaction surveys
There are a number of different questions to ask on your community feedback surveys, but it's important to be selective in the number you ask. It's easy to get carried away and create a 100-question survey. That may give you a wealth of information, but no one will want to answer all those questions. Similarly, you can get people to respond to a 3-question text survey, but that may not yield enough information.
Choose the questions and the categories you want to focus on first. Be strategic: focus on the highest priorities and pick a few questions from the best categories for that particular survey.
This is the best way to see the big picture for your department. How is the department operating as a whole? This won't identify specific problem areas but can show how the community views the department in general.
- How satisfied are you with the police services in your community?
- How satisfied are you with the responsiveness of the police department to community concerns and issues?
- How satisfied are you with the level of communication between the police department and the community?
- How satisfied are you with the overall professionalism of the police department?
Trust and confidence
Trust is an important facet of community relations, and it should be a top survey priority, especially if your agency is making special efforts in this area.
- Do you trust and have confidence in the police department?
- Do you believe the police department is committed to protecting the rights of all community members?
- Do you trust your law enforcement agency?
- Do you believe the police department is transparent in its policies and practices?
- Do you believe the police department is accountable to the community for its actions?
Quality of service
This will help you see how the department performs in specific neighborhoods and how victims feel about the way they are treated by your officers.
- Do you believe that the police department responds promptly to calls for service?
- Do you believe that the police department is effective in preventing crime in your community?
- Do you believe that the police department investigates crimes thoroughly and effectively?
- Do you believe the police department treats victims of crime with respect and sensitivity?
- Do you believe that the police department provides adequate resources and support to officers to perform their duties effectively?
Perceptions of safety
These questions are a great way to understand citizen perceptions of safety in their communities. Consider comparing actual crime statistics to the survey results in those same neighborhoods.
- How safe do you feel walking alone in your neighborhood during the day?
- How safe do you feel when walking alone in your neighborhood at night?
- How safe do you feel in public places, such as parks or shopping areas?
- How safe do you feel in your own home?
- How safe do you feel in your workplace or school?
- How concerned are you about violent crime in your community?
- How concerned are you about property crime in your community?
- How concerned are you about gang activity in your community?
- How concerned are you about drug-related crime in your community?
Bias and fairness
Questions about bias show you how your community views the agency’s treatment of protected classes and specific groups of citizens. It's also a good idea to track the respondents' demographic data to find any correlations here.
- Do you believe that the police department treats all members of the community with respect and dignity?
- Do officers in your law enforcement agency treat people fairly?
- Do you believe the police department treats all community members fairly and without bias?
- Do officers in your law enforcement agency show concern for community members?
- Do you believe that the police department is responsive to complaints or concerns about bias or unfair treatment?
- Do you believe that the police department is effective in preventing and addressing incidents of bias and discrimination?
Use of force
It’s important to understand how the community views your agency’s level of transparency and accountability around officer conduct.
- Do you believe that the police department uses force only when necessary and appropriate?
- Do you believe that the police department is transparent about incidents of police misconduct or excessive use of force?
- Do you believe that the police department is held accountable for incidents of police misconduct or excessive use of force?
- Do you believe the police department is transparent in its use of force policies and practices?
Most departments spend a lot of time and energy focusing on community engagement through community policing efforts, community programs, and school visits. Are these efforts paying off? Do they have the positive results you'd like? Ask these questions to get better insight into your community engagement efforts.
- Do you believe the police department is visible and accessible in your community?
- Do you believe that the police department is responsive to community concerns and feedback?
- Do you believe the police department collaborates with community organizations and stakeholders to address community needs?
- Do you believe the police department provides opportunities for community members to engage in dialogue and problem-solving with law enforcement?
- Do you believe the police department works with diverse communities to ensure that law enforcement practices are inclusive and respectful of cultural differences?
Citizen satisfaction surveys can reveal things about your community-departmental relations that you could never find out just by asking a few people or tuning in to local media. A great satisfaction survey will reach an accurate cross-section of the community, show you the prevailing attitudes about your department, and give you actionable insight into how you can improve. Learn how PowerEngage can help you create community feedback surveys with industry-leading response rates.