Citizen Surveys Improved Community Relations with Fort Collins Police

Being part of the city's regular citizen surveys improved feedback to and relations with the Fort Collins Police Department.

In Fort Collins, public concerns are heard through citizen surveys every two years. They are one reason why the city of Fort Collins earned the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The award is earned by applicants who demonstrate outstanding quality as defined by the exacting standards of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

The Baldrige award provides a road map to improvement processes similar to what a police department would go through in applying for CALEA accreditation. The application and competition provide an incentive for innovation and excellence.

"I can’t imagine a law enforcement agency not doing a survey. If you’re not taking the temperature of your community, you’re missing the boat,” said Fort Collins Police Services Interim Chief Terry Jones.

Fort Collins has conducted nine surveys since 2008 to compare longitudinal data. The surveys are designed, conducted and analyzed by an outside vendor. The surveys are presented to all demographics, and are available in Spanish.

But they are just one part of gathering community information.

Jones credits getting citizen feedback from a variety of sources. The feedback helps the city’s leadership team focus on an agenda within the context of long-term goals that align with the city’s values.

With citizen feedback data, the city’s executive leadership team knows what everybody else is doing, and that reflects an integrated approach to service delivery.

"Data-driven analysis is more than chasing red dots on the map. You get a tremendous amount of information by just walking around,” said Jones.

Law Enforcement as Part of General Reviews of City Services

Many police departments find that they are alienated from other city departments or even feel that city leadership is adversarial to the law enforcement function. The inclusion of police services in the overall Fort Collins citizen surveys may feel different than a survey developed internally just to look at the police department.

Citizen concerns whose solutions lay in more than one city bureaucracy are more easily addressed with a comprehensive survey covering all city services.

For example, a crime reduction solution may reside as much in the parks or public works department as with the police. Leaving crime and quality of life issue solely in the hands of law enforcement can result in biased and skewed perceptions guiding decision-making.

What Happens When Police Leaders Get Community Feedback

But even if citizens surveys are developed internally and conducted by a police department, rather than professionals using the tool to assess city-wide service, the results can be valuable.

The department will get some community relations value from the mere fact that they are asking questions and listening to citizens.

In 2014, Fort Collins Police Services implemented a citizen survey process about their experiences when interacting with police officers. Acting on this feedback, the agency increased its emphasis on Community-Oriented Policing (COPS) as the preferred means of addressing community needs. Community police officers build trust by developing one-on-one relationships with citizens through programs such as “Shop with a Cop” and “ride-alongs.” The COPS program has contributed to Fort Collins resident survey scores on crime prevention that outperform both regional and national comparisons.

Jones says that asking the public for input generates more positive comments than you might expect. He also noted that the top concerns voiced by citizens were not about the police department, but other quality of life issues like bus service. It was nice, Jones remarked, to know his department was not at the top of the complaint list!

Jones says he is fortunate to work in a vibrant city and community, which includes the university with its annual influx of young people. Various city and campus leaders, including Jones and his university police counterparts, walk around during orientation events and have spontaneous, casual conversations with the campus community. The city even has a civic engagement liaison to give special attention to bringing diverse interests into decision-making.

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