Behaviorist or Bureaucrat?
Surveying the Surveyors in City Policing!

The majority of municipal police agencies across the United States use some type of survey to gauge citizen satisfaction with police services or citizen perception of municipal police agencies. Understanding the perceptions and needs of citizens in the community is conducive toward maintaining transparent relationships with them and advancing community policing. In a 2007–8 study conducted by Dr. Greg Galardi of Peru State College (Peru, Nebraska), 1,000 city police agencies with populations of less than 250,000 were contacted regarding the administration and use of citizen satisfaction surveys and their results. Four hundred fifty-one city police executives from across the United States responded and from among them respondents were selected randomly for interviews to gain a more in-depth understanding of their perspectives on the use of citizen satisfaction survey results for their agency. Two distinct approaches emerged from the study results, which are described as either bureaucratic or behaviorist in nature. Both approaches seek to assess quality of services provided by the police.

Both approaches maintain transparency by sharing the survey results with police personnel and the public while seeking to gauge citizen perception of, and satisfaction with, police services. The primary difference, though, is that the bureaucratic approach relies on surveying community members selected randomly and who may have not encountered police service, whereas the behaviorist approach focuses on surveying only individuals who had contact with police.

The bureaucratic approach has a much broader pool of potential survey recipients and uses the survey results to establish annual benchmarks for the quality of law enforcement service provided. The focus is primarily on organizational performance, transmission of results to the community, and the achievement of specific agency-wide goals. The use of this type of survey has been documented consistently in academic and professional publications.

The behaviorist approach, which is newer to policing, has a narrower focus because the recipients of police service are the sole group requested to reply to surveys. The behaviorist approach seeks to accomplish organizational transformation by changing officer behavior in response to citizen feedback. The behaviorist approach also provides more emphasis on following up with respondents, provided they include contact information, to discuss positive and negative experiences with police service. This approach requires more time and fiscal resources than the bureaucratic approach, which can challenge agencies that have limited resources.

Cost and personnel were among the primary reasons many agencies employed only a bureaucratic approach to surveying citizens in their community. Sixty-eight percent of all municipal police agencies surveyed still use traditional mailings to survey citizens, which cost more than a dollar per survey including a self-addressed stamped return envelope. These costs prompted several chiefs to use alternative means to collect data. Many turned to the Internet and survey software; located drop boxes in high pedestrian traffic areas; partnered with local media publications to distribute surveys; received assistance from academic researchers and students; used shared city-wide surveys in conjunction with other departments; placed kiosks in shopping malls; distributed surveys following community meetings; and used nonpaid college interns and volunteer citizens to conduct telephone surveys or assist with data entry to minimize costs associated with survey administration.

As the focus of this research was largely on communities with populations of less than 250,000, and served by city police departments, two Midwestern agency executives provide their rationale for using surveys with a behaviorist approach.

The Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department uses its survey to assess citizen perception and satisfaction with police services. As a result, the chief can review current training to see if it addresses issues raised by community members. “The primary purpose of our service survey is to measure citizen perception of the services provided by our police officers during their initial contact with a citizen on a service call,” said Chief John Stacey. “Second, we review the results of the surveys and glean out any possible training issues for officers. Occasionally, an officer misses something or a question might not be asked that citizen feels is important to the investigation. Our goal is to make sure citizens receive the quality of service we expect from our officers. Ninety to Ninety-five percent of our survey results are favorable.”

Chief Leonard Houloose of the Papillion (Nebraska) Police Department advised, “I take the time to review and initial every survey we receive from citizens. We include an opportunity for citizens to voice what they believe are the most important issues for our agency to address in keeping our community safe. Oftentimes I’ll pick up the phone and call the people to discuss a problem or perception reported by the citizen on a survey (if they provide contact information). Citizens are usually amazed someone has taken the time to get back with them to discuss the matter. Furthermore, when a citizen has a concern about officer performance, it normally relates to a simple misunderstanding about how our agency operates. The results of our community surveys are not used in a punitive manner against employees; we use them to provide employees with an opportunity for introspection and to gain a better understanding of the perceptions of citizens.”

Both the bureaucratic and behaviorist survey approaches adhere to the principles of community policing by strengthening relationships with the community. Using survey results to assess possible problem areas and taking the time to consider possible remedies keeps the police agency in touch with constituents and provides the transparency the public expects from police.

Recommended Reading: Weisel, D. Conducting Community Surveys: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement Agencies. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 1999.

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