When I was appointed in February, I said that I wanted to change the focus of the police department. My direction has been that we will police Gulfport the way the people want it to be policed. I recognized early on that an important step in this process would be to survey our customers to get a better idea of their perceptions and expectations.
In order to ensure that this survey would be statistically valid, I enlisted the assistance of the University of South Florida’s Department of Criminology. Dr. Max Bromley assigned two doctoral students to the project, and they have been on our team from the beginning. Jon Maskaly and Chris Donner helped develop the questions, design a data-collection instrument, and they conducted statistical analysis of the results. Without their help, this project would have taken much longer and would have required more of our own resources.
On September 30, 2010, I received the final report from USF. Since then, I have reviewed the data and the analysis with my staff. We have identified four areas where we feel we can work to specifically address the concerns indicated in the survey results.
- Patrol Zone Re-Mapping
Survey results showed that residents in the existing patrol zone #4 were least likely to report feeling safer over the past year. The current boundaries of this patrol zone are Tangerine Avenue on the north, 55th Street on the west, Boca Ciega Bay on the south, and St. Petersburg on the east. In contrast, those in zone #3 (essentially Town Shores and Pasadena Yacht & Country Club) were most likely to report feeling safer.
This contrast indicates the possibility that police resources may be inappropriately deployed. The goal is to set up patrol zones in such a way that each has roughly the same workload (combination of crime, calls for service, commercial contacts, traffic issues, etc). I have directed the operations commander to task our crime analyst with conducting a review of this information with the goal of revising the zone boundaries to reflect changes that may have occurred since the last such re-map over ten years ago.
My initial speculation is that we will end up with one zone covering the entire western portion of the city, while the eastern portion is divided fairly evenly into the other three zones. This project should be completed by the end of the year, and any changes will be put in place effective January 1st.
- Increase Community Activities
Responses in various sections of the survey indicate a desire to see more police involvement in crime prevention and neighborhood watch programs. Currently, we make these programs available to all residents on a regular basis, but historical participation has been low. This tells us that, while people want these things, they do not necessarily want to go out of their way to get involved.
We believe that the solution lies in making another fundamental change. Rather than simply making these programs available, we will instead focus on bringing them to the communities. In 2011, I intend to begin a community activity program where we will help set up neighborhood get-togethers with a crime-prevention theme. We will hold one event per quarter, alternating patrol zones. Each of the four patrol sergeants will be responsible for making the necessary arrangements for these functions. Initially, these events will take the form of block parties designed to simply increase familiarity among neighbors.
- Improve Perception of Investigative Function
Although overall satisfaction was very high, respondents indicated less perceived satisfaction with detectives than with other components of the police department. While this is not to say there is a problem (the numbers are still very good), we want to make some changes to try to improve things.
Comments on this subject focused primarily on the lack of information about investigative efforts on cases reported to police. We believe the primary culprit for this is the “early case closure” letter that is sent to victims of cases that do not meet established solvability factors. In its current form, the letter attempts to explain that the investigation is put on hold because there are no leads.
We believe that a modification is in order—one that focuses on the basic tenets of customer service: tell them what you CAN do, not what you can’t do. The revised letter will now contain language that explains the following:
- This case has been received by and is now assigned to the investigative services section.
- Experts are in the process of reviewing any and all forensic evidence that was collected.
- Analysts are now and will continue to search a multitude of databases for any possible links to reported stolen property.
- We will contact you with any updates, but please feel free to contact us with questions in the mean time.
- Although the case status will officially be “suspended,” there will be no language in the letter that reflects this.
- Crime Prevention Efforts at Boca Ciega High School
Several respondents indicated their concern about safety and crime at Boca Ciega High School. To address this, I will be directing the school resource officers to develop a comprehensive student crime prevention program. Such a program will be planned and implemented in conjunction with the school administration, most likely using guidelines already established by Youth Crime Watch of America (http://www.ycwa.org/).
It is our understanding that the most effective surveys are those that can measure change. In order to know if our efforts are being put to the best use, we believe it is important to conduct this type of survey on a regular basis. Costs for printing, mailing, and data entry are approximately $8,000. If the results help us to more efficiently deploy our resources, the cost for an annual survey is well worth it.