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SHSU Reports Citizen Attitudes Toward Houston PD

Nov. 10, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles

Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice recently completed the Houston Police Department’s latest citizen survey.

The Citizen Contact/Impression Survey, which was administered for the second time in 2010, continues to give the Houston Police Department high marks, although ratings have slipped slightly since the initial survey was completed in 2008. African American residents also continue to lag behind in attitudes toward police, especially in ratings for honesty, fairness and respect.

“It conveys to our employees the importance we place on acquiring feedback from our citizens, who are our customers,” said Timothy Oettmeier, Executive Assistant Chief at the Houston Police Department. “We want our front line officers, supervisors, and managers to know citizen feedback is important and that it is actively being solicited.

The study was conducted by Dennis R. Longmire, Ling Ren, and Solomon Zhao from the College of Criminal Justice. A summary of the findings was presented to the Command Staff of the Houston Police Department as well as the Public Safety and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Houston City Council.

Surveys provide an excellent tool to measure public perceptions of police departments. In Houston, the results of the survey may help shape day-to-day operations or activities, or could lead to changes in policy, operations or how information is shared throughout the community.

“This type of survey demonstrates a degree of accountability, in that we have an obligation to improve in those areas in which citizens perceive us to be weak,” Oettmeier said. “The survey enables us to demonstrate transparency as a result of our willingness to share the results, regardless of how good or bad they may be. The survey is a ‘report card’ on various aspects of our performance.”

The 2010 survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,850 residents and covered similar questions as the 2008 survey of 1,250 citizens. In addition, the survey collected resident opinions on key issues facing the city, including staffing, growth of the Houston Police Department, portrayal by the media, enforcement of immigration laws and investigation of complaints against the department.

The survey provided an overall rating of Houston police officers, including integrity, dealing with citizens, and performance/qualifications; satisfaction levels, including the areas of law enforcement, crime prevention, general service issues and priorities; and an anticipation of behaviors, including professionalism and equal treatment regardless of race.

It also queried Houston residents about neighborhood crime and disordered problems, fear of crime, victimization and community characteristics. Public attitudes toward police were assessed within four geographic areas, including the Northwest, Southwest, Southeast and Northeast quadrants of Houston. In addition, the study attempted to explain variations in perceptions of police service by looking into crime levels, residents’ fear of crime and contextual correlates.

A third survey has been proposed, which will enable the findings to gauge resident perceptions at the division level.

“It looked at the number of reported crimes within a one-block radius of each respondent’s residence,” said Zhao. “Residents are fully aware of what is happening in their immediate neighborhoods. They can tell what types of crimes occur.”

One major finding of the report was that good police work where respondents live was the most significant predictor of both general attitudes toward police and specific trust in police. This includes police visibility, crime prevention, interaction with citizens, and response time to calls.

The researchers recommended that the department focus its effort on police activities that are designed to improve the quality of life in communities, not simply arresting the bad guys.

The report also found that the number of criminal incidents reported to police was significantly related to residents’ level of fear and ratings of the Houston Police Department. All three categories of crime, including violent, property and disorder crimes, had equal impacts on the public’s fear of crime. The researchers recommended that police pay addition attention to disorder crimes, such as prostitution, DWI, public drunkenness, gambling and vandalism, to reduce the public’s fear of crime.

The data collected has been invaluable to research efforts at the College of Criminal Justice and has led to the publication of several articles in prominent justice journals.



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