News survey— Village police elicit mixed responses
- Published: May 21, 2015
This is the seventh in a series of articles examining the local police department and its relationship to the village.
• Click here to view all the articles the series
This is the first of two articles reporting the results of a Yellow Springs News online survey on local policing.
Some villagers fear for their own safety because they believe the Yellow Springs Police Department unfairly targets them. Others believe the police force is so professional and respectful that any critique of the force is unjustified.
Most of those who participated in an anonymous online Yellow Springs News survey on local policing fell somewhere in the middle of these perspectives, with two thirds reporting that they were satisfied with the YSPD.
The survey also revealed that respondents believe Yellow Springs is an extremely safe community, some of which is attributable to the Yellow Springs Police Department. The majority believe that officers are professional, respectful and reasonable and not overly aggressive or unjustified in their actions. The majority of respondents also know one to two of the 10 local officers by name or sight and believe that crime here has stayed the same over the years.
However, while two thirds were satisfied with local police, those figures may have fallen from a 92 percent satisfaction rate 10 years ago. And among those who have been pulled over, cited, arrested or appeared at Mayor’s Court, around 30 percent agreed that officers were unjustified in their actions, and 25 percent found them overly aggressive during their interaction.
Some respondents specified harassment and profiling by the YSPD as reasons for their dissatisfaction. One noted:
“I haven’t had a run-in recently, but that’s because I only work, live and have kids go to school here. I hardly shop or hang out downtown, one reason being police harassment.”
Another said an officer was “belligerent, aggressive, provocative and menacing” and lied about an expired registration to gain entry into a local home.
Others have had mostly positive experiences, including a large percentage whose experience with police has been from calling for assistance or because they were a victim or witness to a crime.
“I’ve called a few times, and when I needed assistance it arrived within a minute or two,” one respondent wrote. “We are very lucky to live in an area that has such good coverage,” they wrote, adding that officers are “all professional and friendly” while those who criticize the police are a minority. Another respondent wrote:
“My experience with and observations of the YS police officers have been very positive and it leads me to believe that the citizens of this town are still extremely critical of those in an authoritative position.” The respondent added that those who are most vocal speaking critically of the police are “the same people who tend to break the law.”
In total, 477 people completed at least part of the survey, 80 percent of whom live in the village. A further 20 percent of survey respondents work here and 15 percent are visitors.
The online survey ran for three weeks, from April 15–May 5. It was advertised in the Yellow Springs News, posted publicly on YSNews.com, emailed to subscribers and website members and posted on Facebook discussion sites.
The survey was not representative of the village in several demographic categories, especially in regards to race and youth. The survey had far less participation from teenagers and lower participation from African-Americans. Survey demographics were similar to village demographics in other racial and age categories as well as in household income and gender.
According to the 2010 Census, the village is 78 percent white, while 85.5 percent of survey respondents were white. Only 5.5 percent of survey respondents were African American, compared with an African American population figure of 12 percent here. The survey had about the same percentage of respondents from two or more races, or who were Asian or American Indian/Alaskan Native as the village.
The age of survey respondents was on par with 2010 Census figures in the age ranges of 20–29 and 40–59, while there were about twice as many 30- to 39-year-olds and 60- to 74-year-olds responding compared to Census figures. About half as many older than 74 took the survey compared to Census figures. In the largest deviation from age demographics, there was essentially no teenage and youth participation in the survey. While there are some 200 local teens (15–19 year olds) according to the Census, only two residents under 20 years old took the survey.
Household income figures of survey participants were similar to village figures, and were nearly on par with Census figures of lower income (below $25,000 per year) and upper income (more than $100,000) residents. There was slightly more survey participation for those making $25,000 to $49,000 per year. And about 58 percent of survey respondents were women, compared with a local female population of 54 percent.
Satisfaction with police
Overall, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents reported they were satisfied with the Yellow Springs Police Department. That included one third who were very satisfied and another third who were somewhat satisfied. Only 28 percent of respondents reported they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with the YSPD.
However, villagers may be far less satisfied now than was reported in a 2005 mail and random telephone survey completed by the Village of Yellow Springs. According to that survey, designed to gauge citizen satisfaction with many government services in light of budget constraints, 92 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the police department, two-thirds of whom said they were very satisfied. Only six percent said they were dissatisfied by the YSPD in that survey. While in the News survey 13 percent of respondents were very dissatisfied, just 1.2 percent were very dissatisfied in the 2005 Village survey.
It may appear that satisfaction with police, while still high, could have declined precipitously over the last decade. Other factors may be that the News survey included more self-selected respondents who harbored concerns over policing. The fact that the survey was online, focused solely on policing and was advertised primarily to News readers may have also played a role.
Other survey questions showed somewhat less positive perceptions about the police department, though generally the police received good ratings across all questions. When asked how they would rate the management of the police department in its ability to address the needs of the community, about one third of respondents selected good and another one quarter said fair. About 16 percent chose either excellent or poor.
The police received slightly less favorable responses when survey respondents were asked about their opinion of the relationship between local citizens and the police department. Again, one third selected good, but one third also selected fair. Just 8 percent of respondents noted the relationship was excellent, while 18 percent reported they believed it was poor.
In a related question, the largest number of those surveyed responded that they only knew one local officer by name or sight (38 percent), another 30 percent knew two officers, 25 reported knew three to four and just 7 percent knew five or more. There are currently 10 police officers in the department, including the police chief. One respondent discussed the issue in a separate section of the survey:
“Used to know all our officers in the 1960s–80s and they all lived here. They also worked here almost their entire career. Now, with twice as many officers, I only know one by name and don’t know any that reside in YS. They come and go very quickly, turnover is high, retention low.”
Experiences with police
When asked to rate the Yellow Springs Police Department after a direct personal experience, the majority of respondents gave officers and dispatchers high marks for being professional and respectful and reported that officers were reasonable in their actions and communicated in a clear and direct manner. While the rating was slightly lower among those who were pulled over, cited, warned or arrested by police compared to those who called the police for assistance or who were victims or witnesses to a crime, a majority still said they agreed police were respectful and disagreed that they were overly aggressive or unjustified in their actions.
About half of survey respondents reported that they called the police, or were a victim or witness to a local crime in the past several years, documenting a wide variety of interactions with local police, from smaller concerns (stolen bicycle, bat loose in the home, neighbor dispute, loud party next door, dog bite, dead animals, etc.) to more serious issues (rape, abuse, stalking, home and car break-ins, health crisis, car accident, burglary). Several respondents wrote that they witnessed the 2013 shootout between police and Paul Schenck, which ended in Schenck’s death.
Two thirds of those who had these interactions with police said they strongly agreed that officers and dispatchers were professional and respectful. Including those who selected slightly agree, the numbers were even higher (73 percent for officers, 79 percent for dispatchers). In addition, 75 percent agreed that officer response time was adequate, when applicable to their situation, and slightly less, 63 percent, agreed that the YSPD helped them solve their issue, when applicable.
One respondent, who described an incident of being struck by a motor vehicle in town, wrote “the YSPD went out of its way to help me feel safe and make sure a report was available for medical and financial purposes,” adding, “I couldn’t be happier with the level of assistance they provided when I needed them.”
Another respondent expressed gratitude for police for assisting them after the theft of money from a nonprofit organization:
“I worked with one officer who was remarkable in understanding me and my plight, who guided and advised and protected me, who made it possible for us to get our money back. The officer was remarkable, helped me emotionally and legally. I was and am very grateful.”
Respondents also commended the police for help in dealing with suicidal family members and childhood traumas, with one writing:
“Can’t imagine anyone getting through that kind of trauma and end up sane without the same level of assistance, caring, kindness, accessibility, responsiveness and commitment I and my family experienced from YS Police.”
Other respondents, who gave police lower marks, wrote that police have harassed them, expressed frustration that the police never contacted them to return found stolen personal property, criticized dispatchers, and were upset that police chose not to press charges against juveniles, among other issues. One claimed they were “threatened” by Yellow Springs police in their home, while they are reluctant to file a complaint because of concern over retribution. “I consider them, far from peace officers, thugs in the employ of the state,” the respondent wrote.
Regarding the local dispatch, one respondent wrote: “I have found the dispatchers amazingly helpful in all calls I have made to police.” Others were critical of the skills and urgency of dispatchers. One suggested Xenia dispatchers have better training. Another person surveyed wrote:
“There are several dispatchers who lack the skill of being a dispatcher, they don’t answer with a sense of urgency, they don’t take your information, they are not asking important questions and giving that information to the officer.”
Fewer survey respondents have been pulled over, cited, warned or arrested by police or appeared in Mayor’s Court in the past few years. Around one third of those surveyed had those experiences, most of them because of a traffic violation, whether alleged or not. Survey respondents still rated police highly, with two thirds agreeing that officers communicated in a clear and direct manner and closer to 60 percent agreeing that officers were professional and respectful and reasonable in their actions. At the same time, around 30 percent agreed that officers were unjustified in their actions, and 25 percent found them overly aggressive during their interaction.
Most high marks came from those who said they deserved their speeding ticket or other traffic citation, others reported that the charges for more minor violations, like expired tags, were later dropped if they received more than just a warning in the first place. Others noted their experiences with the police have been positive, one writing, “In my opinion, a very helpful and kind police force. As it should be.” Another respondent wrote:
“I was in a highly stressful car accident. [The officer] was helpful, courteous, and eased the anxiety of my loved one; he addressed our concerns while remaining a calm presence and not elevating crisis.”
About 42 percent of those who appeared in Mayor’s Court agreed the mayor was fair and reasonable, one quarter disagreed and one third were neutral. Several noted that the mayor dismissed minor vehicle-related violations. One respondent expressed frustration that after the person was “brutally assaulted” in a local business, the mayor left off the perpetrator with a small fine. “Time for a new mayor,” the respondent wrote.
Of those who were more critical of the police, respondents wrote that police have hassled them, unfairly searched their home, followed them in their car, lied about the reasons for pulling them over, and violated the person’s fourth amendment rights.
When they were caught speeding a few years ago, one respondent said the police went on to tailgate them for a period before pulling them over, which seemed like an aggressive tactic designed to “elicit a reaction from me to justify an escalation.” However, once stopped, the commenter said the officer was “professional and appropriate” for the rest of the interaction.
Another respondent said that police who arrived before, or with, the Miami Township Fire and Rescue squad when called for two incidents of panic attacks and one alcohol poisoning, made the situation worse. The respondent wrote:
“On all three occasions they closely swarmed the would-be patient (each one in a disoriented and frightened, though not violent state) with 4–6 large men in uniforms, began questioning them, giving them orders they were in no position to follow, and refusing to step away.” The commenter added that medical professionals and public mental health responders were needed, “not big gruff men whose primary training is in violence and control.”
Results from the remainder of the survey on the direction of local policing will be reported in the next issue of the News