San Diego rolling out online survey to track opinions on policing

Capt. Jeffrey Jordon said the responses will be used as "actionable information" for commanding officers

By Teri Figueroa
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — In a bid to get direct feedback from a cross-section of San Diegans, the city's police department is rolling out an anonymous online survey.

The survey, which launches Monday, is an attempt to gauge whether residents believe the city's police are effective, whether they trust the department and whether they feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Links to the survey will appear as ads across a variety of websites and apps targeting people across the city, with a mind toward reaching a broad swath of demographics, according to Zencity, the company behind the survey.

Police Capt. Jeffrey Jordon said the survey will augment the department's attempts to get feedback from the residents it serves.

"This application will really allow us to measure public sentiment with regard to trust and safety," Jordon said. "It will also provide us actual information about what people are saying about the very specific issues they are concerned about within their communities."

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Local social justice activists have long spoken out against bias in policing and racial injustice, concerns highlighted when thousands of San Diegans took to the streets — as did millions of people across the nation — after the May 2020 death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd's neck.

Outcries from community members and activists followed when videos surfaced earlier this year of San Diego police using force in several encounters — including video of officers tackling a homeless Black man in La Jolla, and video of an officer who appeared to point his gun at a young boy during a traffic stop.

San Diego police and the city have responded to criticism with some changes, such as banning officers from using a controversial hold known as the carotid restraint, and other reforms. Some community members and activists, however, say more needs to be done to address systemic problems in policing that disproportionately impact communities of color.

In the new survey, respondents will be asked to rate on a scale of zero to 10 their take on a variety of public-safety-related topics. People will be asked to rate how safe they feel in their neighborhood, to what degree police treat area residents with respect, and to what degree police listen to and take into account the concerns of residents.

There is also an open-ended query asking the respondent to name their most concerning issue on their block or in their neighborhood that they most want police to address.

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The survey is relatively short and will be offered in seven languages.

The city and the company expect to gather about 1,000 answers per month. In a few months, once there is a solid sampling of survey responses, the department will start posting the results on an online "dashboard" that will include a monthly score of the responses.

Jordon said the responses "will be turned into reports to all of our commanding officers across all divisions with actionable information for them to really be able to address priorities."

To get the survey in front of a wide sampling of San Diegans, Zencity uses census data to find the demographic makeup — race, age, gender, education, income and primary language — of an area, and places online ads on platforms popular with that population.

"Using this method we can get basically anywhere anyone is spending their time on the Internet, tap them on the shoulder and say, 'Hey, we want your opinion,'" said Michael Simon, Zencity's vice president of strategic partnerships.

Simon said the idea is to reach a "representative slice of the community."

"That means getting at populations that are not showing up to community meetings. It means getting at populations that are less likely to trust the government and engage with the government typically," Simon said.

The survey will attempt to reach a wide range of demographics, including young people, people of color and residents for whom English is not their first language, he said.

The method could be "a productive way of communicating," said Norma Sandoval, chairwoman of the city's Citizens Advisory Board on Police/Community Relations.

"Any medium by which the public can communicate their needs, beliefs and recommendations to the police department I think is favorable," Sandoval said, adding that the approach aligns with the board's desire for increased transparency and feedback.

The price tag for the project is $245,000 for the first year. The department said the money will come from assets seized by police during investigations.

Zencity says it is working with several other cities, including Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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