Survey of public shows drop in satisfaction with police performance

Friday, June 7, 2013 | 8:12 p.m. CDT; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 8, 2013

COLUMBIA — Public satisfaction with the Columbia Police Department's crime prevention took a hit in a spring citizen satisfaction survey administered by the city.

Members of the Columbia City Council and other city officials reviewed the results of the survey during the first day of the council's annual retreat, held at the Activity and Recreation Center.

Reviewing the responses from 811 city residents, Karen Falk, project manager for ETC Institute—the company that conducted the survey— gave an analysis of the public's opinion on the city government's work and identified several areas of improvement.

"This reaches your silent majority who don't necessarily go to City Council meetings to let their views known," Falk said of the survey.

Comparing citizen responses with the results of a similar survey conducted in 2011, Falk found a significant decrease in the public's satisfaction with the Columbia Police Department's efforts to prevent crime in the city and its response time to emergencies.

Public satisfaction — meaning those who said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" — for police efforts to prevent crime decreased by 6 percent, from 64.2 percent in 2011 to 58.1 percent in 2013. Satisfaction for police response to emergencies also decreased by more than 6 percent, from 68.8 percent in 2011 to 62.4 percent in 2013.

After Falk's presentation, the conversation among city officials moved to what they believe is a lack of public understanding about the accomplishments of the Columbia Police Department and the crime rate in the city. 

Referring to crime report statistics submitted in a 2010 evaluation of the Columbia Police Department and 2011 FBI crime statistics, Mayor Bob McDavid said that there had been a significant decrease in crime in Columbia since 1985. 

"There is a clear disconnect between the numbers that talk about how much crime we have and the individual perception of how safe Columbia is," McDavid said. "We have a disconnect between reality and perception."

Falk said that this has been an issue with other communities and that the best approach is to make the public aware through every available source, including the city newsletter. 

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton responded by saying the police department is making efforts to present more positive information through social media. One of these efforts includes "Tweet-alongs" in which public information officers will join patrolmen as they respond to calls and live-tweet it.

"It's all about getting the information to the public about the good things that police officers do every day," Burton said.

Later in the afternoon, council members and department leaders added the objective of improving communication to the public about the police's response to crime to the city's strategic plan.

Communications and the internet

City officials also added an initiative to the strategic plan to make finding information on the city's website easier after learning of another major point of dissatisfaction among Columbia residents.

Public satisfaction for the usefulness and the ease of using the city's website,, dropped 7 percent. Satisfaction for the site's usefulness dropped from 68.2 percent in 2011 to 61.3 percent in 2013, while satisfaction for the ease of using the site dropped from 59.7 percent in 2011 to 52.7 percent in 2013.

Several council members noted they had received complaints from constituents about having difficultly finding the information they were looking for on the website.

Other survey results

A report with the survey's results and an analysis summary can be found on the city's webpage. Here are a few of the other findings:

  •  Satisfaction with the maintenance of city streets was up 10 percent from 34 percent in 2011.
  • Satisfaction with the condition of sidewalks was down 7 percent from 49 percent in 2011.
  • Satisfaction with trash and litter cleanup was up 16 percent from 42.5 percent in 2011.
  • In a comparison with respondents in both the Missouri/Kansas region and the U.S., Columbia residents had a 20 percent greater overall satisfaction with the city's provided services than residents within the other two categories.

The retreat was facilitated by Carolyn Sullivan of New Chapter Coaching, who is being paid $5,500 for her services. The retreat will continue on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Katie Moritz.

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