For 3 Years, Chicago Police Have Been Tracking Public Opinion On The Department. Here’s What They Found

Chicago Protest
Chicago police officers at a protest on June 2, 2020. On Thursday, the department released survey results that show, despite protests, officers still have some trust from city residents. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Chicago Protest
Chicago police officers at a protest on June 2, 2020. On Thursday, the department released survey results that show, despite protests, officers still have some trust from city residents. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

For 3 Years, Chicago Police Have Been Tracking Public Opinion On The Department. Here’s What They Found

Despite dozens of anti-police protests this summer, and months of calls to cut the department’s budget, survey results released Thursday by the Chicago Police Department show feelings about police among Chicagoans are not so bad after all. The results, however, vary by neighborhood with residents in some South and West Side communities reporting much lower trust in officers.

Similar surveys have been conducted in other cities, but the company behind the data says Chicago is a “leader” in making the results public.

For the past three years the department has used the data analytics company ELUCD to gauge how residents feel about police. The company has surveyed about 1,750 Chicagoans every month asking respondents from every police district to use a scale from 1-10 to rate how respectful officers are, how much they listen and rate their own feelings of safety.

For the first time, the department is making those results available in a dashboard that allows the public to see results over time and how scores breakdown by demographics and location. The results show that on average, people who participated in the survey ranked their trust in police at about 61 out of 100. The numbers were slightly lower for residents’ feelings of safety.

Community Policing Commander Angel Novalez said he looks at the results as a sign of progress.

“There were very loud calls for change and in some cases much needed,” Novalez said about the summer’s protests against police violence. But he said he would look at the trust scores and feel confident “there was something that we were doing that was right at that time.”

Still, some combination of the protests and the surge in violence appeared to have had a diminishing effect on public confidence in CPD. The trust scores hit an all-time high of 66 out of 100 in June, but then dropped back down over summer and fall. Still, November’s trust score of 62 continues a slight upward trend from the first survey score of 60.

The scores are based on online surveys promoted through advertisements and administered by ELUCD.

The ratings on the three questions asked are not percentages, but instead weighted scores based on the location and demographics of the respondents.

Sujeet Rao from ELUCD said the company conducts similar surveys for 12 other cities around the country, including Lansing, Michigan and Redondo Beach, California. The company also started a similar effort for the New York Police Department in 2017. Rao said Chicago’s trust and safety scores are “about on par” compared to other big city departments, but those agencies have not made their results public.

“Chicago is the leader in building this public facing dashboard, although it is something that we encourage and welcome from others as well,” Rao said.

The survey does not operate like a poll, and therefore does not have a margin of error or confidence level, but Rao said the results are “statistically valid based on survey research methodology best practices.”

The police districts that cover the South Side neighborhoods of Englewood, Auburn-Gresham, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing and Woodlawn and the West Side neighborhoods of Garfield Park, Little Village and North Lawndale had the lowest confidence in police, all with scores hovering around 50.

The far Northwest Side police district covering Jefferson and Portage Park neighborhoods had the highest trust score of 81.

Black Chicagoans had the lowest confidence in police in the most recent survey, with a “trust score” of 58 according to CPD, they also reported feeling the least safe from crime.

Trust in the police is most starkly divided in Chicago by class, according to the survey results. Chicagoans with an average income of $100,000 or more scored their trust in police at 71 on average, that number went down to 62 among people making between $30,000 and $99,999. Chicagoans making less than $30,000 a year marked their confidence in police at 58.

Overall safety scores are lower than confidence in police. Survey respondents rated their feelings of security in their neighborhoods at 55 in the most recent survey, and those scores have been trending downward slightly since the surveys started being collected.

The 3rd District, on the Southeast Side covering Greater Grand Crossing and Woodlawn, had the lowest safety score, while the lakefront 20th District on the North Side, which covers Andersonville, Edgewater and Ravenswood had the highest safety score.

The department has been using these public surveys for years internally to gauge things like the success of community policing initiatives. Novalez said it was a key tool in rolling out the Neighborhood Policing Initiative pilot last year.

“Knowing how the community feels about the police department, helps to impact the way we make decisions,” Novalez said. “If someone’s feeling safe, if they trust the police, those are good markers for us to apply strategies.”

Chicago residents can take the survey here.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.