Yellow Springs Police survey results—A desire for community engagement
- Published: May 28, 2015
This is the eighth 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 second of two articles reporting the results of a Yellow Springs News online survey on local policing.
A desire for more engagement between the police and the community was at the top of a list of suggestions for the Yellow Springs Police Department in a recent online survey.
Three-quarters of those surveyed said they would like the police to engage with the community more often, including by patrolling more on bicycle and foot instead of in their cruisers and visiting schools to speak with students.
“In years past it seemed the department was more a part of the community and now it feels
as if it is apart from and scrutinizing the community, looking for wrongdoing.”
Police should also complete in-depth training in how deal with the mentally ill and disabled in crisis situations, dispatch services should remain local and the Mayor’s Court should adjudicate on as many local matters as possible, according to the majority of those surveyed. In addition, majorities did not believe that the YSPD should participate in the regional SWAT team and ACE drug task force and did not believe that the department needs more officers.
The survey also revealed that respondents believe Yellow Springs is an extremely safe community, and two-thirds are generally satisfied with the YSPD.
In comments, some survey respondents wrote that the police are being unfairly targeted. One said the current critiques are a “witch hunt,” and another said police are judged for the actions of other officers. Yet another said that police are sworn to uphold and enforce the law and “are not here to make everyone happy.”
“When someone breaks the law we as a society have established, we pay [the police] to take action and protect us and our community,” the responder wrote. While the police need fair and reasonable oversight, “We as a community should not continue to beat them for doing their duty.”
Other survey respondents were critical of the tactics of the YSPD, writing that their tactics are overly aggressive and that they are prone to racial profiling and involved in a failed “war on drugs.” One said that local police should not follow the policies of departments in large cities, preferring “safety officers,” with another suggesting “peace officers” instead of police officers. Of a different approach, one respondent wrote:
“Don’t go out seeking criminals. You are not an army to keep us lowly citizens in line. You are our employees. ‘To protect and serve,’ not ‘To bust and convict.’”
In contrast to more critical statements, one respondent wrote: “Our village has a rare set of circumstances that allows it to be an example of progressive, community growth-oriented justice that sets it apart from the ominous direction our nation at large is heading.”
In total, 477 people completed at least part of the online survey, which ran for three weeks in April and May. The survey was not representative of the village in several demographic categories, with less participation from local teens and from African Americans. It fairly represented the village in other racial and age categories as well as in household income and gender.
Direction of the YSPD
The largest percentage of survey participants agreed that all officers should complete the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training (86 percent). According to Police Chief Hale in an interview this week, all of the department’s officers except Hale have had some crisis training during their police academy education, but he is not certain if any have had the 40-hour CIT training.
Dispatch services should remain local, according to 81 percent of those surveyed. As one respondent wrote: “Local dispatch employees have enormous knowledge of individual villagers … Their professionalism and efficiency is stellar!”
Majorities also said that Mayor’s Court should adjudicate on as many local matters as possible (71 percent), social workers, mental health professionals and non-sworn emergency respondents should play a larger role in public safety (70 percent), and the department should explore alternatives such as restorative justice (60 percent).
One respondent wrote that, “Mayor Foubert makes sound decisions and his court should be utilized much more,” and another wrote, “We shouldn’t be outsourcing justice to Xenia.”
Others weighed in that Mayor’s Court can’t legally hear more cases, needs fresh blood and is an “outdated and ineffective system.”
“Violations should be heard in municipal court with a proper judge and prosecutor,” one wrote. That respondent added that social workers and mental health workers have a proper role in treatment if that is part of a perpetrator’s sentence, but “are not trained or equipped to respond to emergency situations.”
However, more survey respondents wrote in support of the use of social workers and others to deal with some of the work now handled by the YSPD. One wrote, “Minimize the service work done by expensive police officers and employ non-police citizens … everything from helping children cross the street to jumping cars that won’t start to doing mental health crisis intervention.”
Another wrote that judging from weekly police reports in the News, the Village might need an animal control officer. A different respondent was critical of the police escorting villagers shopping. Weighing in on the matter, one wrote that, “All [the police department’s] incidental medical, mental health and community service functions can and should be carried out by people who are specifically trained for that purpose, and who are not armed, nor constantly threatening racial violence by their very appearance.”
More than half of those surveyed did not feel that the department should participate in the regional SWAT team (55 percent), including 40 percent who strongly disagreed, while 25 agreed with the participation in SWAT. A smaller number, around 40 percent, did not think the YSPD should continue to participate in the ACE Drug Task Force, while 35 percent agreed it should continue to be involved.
A slight majority disagreed with the statement that more officers are needed in Yellow Springs (51 percent), while 12 percent thought more officers should be added. Additionally, two-fifths disagreed that the police should patrol their neighborhood more often (one-fifth want more neighborhood patrols).
Majorities of those surveyed said they would like the police to engage with the community more often (78 percent), including by patrolling more on bicycle and foot than cruiser (73 percent). In an open-ended comment box, some survey respondents specified how they would prefer police engage. One mentioned that police should be put on foot patrol when they first come to the village to “get to know the community.” Others said it’s a “show of good will,” and “could help repair the relationship between the community and officers.” One said foot and bicycle patrols are important because “a cruiser moving along with windows closed is not approachable.”
However, a recent attempt by officers to “get to know” villagers milling outside of a local bar at 1:30 a.m. was perceived as “extremely disingenuous,” according to one respondent. Another said they already see patrol officers on duty frequently walking around town in places such as the library and Tom’s Market and “engaging with people on the street in friendly conversation.”
The police presence at morning drop-off at Mills Lawn Elementary School was noted as a bright spot by several of those surveyed, with a smaller number suggesting that it is a waste of time for officers.
“We don’t need to pay someone more than minimum wage to help children cross the street to go to school!” one survey respondent wrote.
Another survey respondent wrote that if more police officers lived in town, that engagement would come naturally since they would be “a greater part of the community.” In fact, numerous survey respondents added that local officers, and the chief, should live in town. One person surveyed wrote that when officers live in town, it “keeps them invested in the community, and makes them see the community members as individuals rather than faceless perpetrators of crime.” A few noted that police were more engaged with the community in previous years.
“In years past it seemed the department was more a part of the community and now it feels as if it is apart from and scrutinizing the community, looking for wrongdoing,” one respondent wrote.
Another disagreed with the notion of past “golden years of policing,” adding that the police department has been managed well over the last 20 years and it is access to information that has changed perceptions of police behavior.
A few wrote that more engagement with the public and school would be a negative. One wrote that “police are basically in a violent role” and another wrote, “My feeling is that the YSPD should stay as far away from the public as possible, as they are the problem in the current manifestation, not the citizenry.” One person surveyed wrote they would prefer to limit their interactions with officers because of a lack of trust, stating that one “horrible experience” with police can instate fear.
“When officers abuse their power, a citizen realizes how powerless they are,” they wrote. “It’s pretty unnerving.”
Nearly two-thirds of respondents reported they would like police to visit the schools more often, with one specifying that the police should be there to “inform students of their rights as citizens” and another saying “it would be great if my kids were comfortable around local officers.”
In addition to asserting that more officers should live in town, survey respondents added that the local police department should be more diverse, specifically with respect to gender and race.
Many survey respondents noted a desire for “community policing.” In a follow-up email to some survey respondents, they defined community policing as generally about police officers interacting with the public on foot patrols, in local shops, at meet-and-greets and other local events to build mutual trust and connection. One wrote it involved the police “embedded in the community,” which can lead to them “pre-empting” crime.
Another called community policing “authority with compassion,” and said the practice involves police walking around their “turf” to get to know community members.
“By doing this, police are not a foreign invasion during times of trouble, but perhaps a friendly face that is there to help,” they wrote.
Another respondent described community policing as “a partnership with an objective to determine community needs and policing priorities.” In a related comment in the survey, one person suggested a “public oversight committee” that would keep tabs on the department, while another said the Village should be involved in hiring new officers, who should be more closely examined on personality factors like antisocial and sadistic traits to “weed out persons poorly suited for the work of community policing of a peaceable small town that, as a whole, values and embraces non-violence.” Yet another respondent wrote that Council should not “micro-manage the police department,” adding, “If they don’t trust the police chief to do his job, they should not have hired him.”
Others noted the term “community policing” has multiple definitions, including the use of neighborhood watches and citizens to look out for, and report, suspicious activity and persons. One wrote that community policing is about making sure that those who harm villagers or morally debase the community face “detrimental consequences” while also ensuring that there will be “watchful eyes, at all times, looking out for the well-being of this community.”
Another survey respondent was critical of community policing, which the respondent called a “buzzword,” adding that citizens should realize the village is “part of a much larger world and as such should participate in the big picture of law enforcement,” balancing a community policing approach with “task based enforcement.”
Finally, one respondent with law enforcement experience wrote that at its best, community policing is a “two-way street.”
“Respect and understanding must flow from both sides, officers and citizens alike,” they wrote. “An adversarial mindset on either side will doom the efforts.”
Crime and safety concerns
The vast majority of respondents said they felt safe in the village (93 percent), including nearly 70 percent reporting they felt extremely safe here. Only 2.5 percent said they felt unsafe, while another five percent were neutral on the question.
However, when asked how much their feeling of safety they attributed to the Yellow Springs Police Department, the majority, 55 percent, reported that some of it was attributable to police, 22 percent reported that most of it was, and just four percent selected “all of it.” Meanwhile, 18 percent of respondents said none of their feeling of safety could be attributed to the YSPD. One respondent, who attributed some of their feeling of safety to the YSPD, wrote:
“I feel like police are doing a great job, but I’m not sure if repeat offenders are out on the streets. Would like to hear the statistics, but I feel very safe because of the Yellow Spring PD.”
In comments, those surveyed wrote that Yellow Springs is safe by comparison and one wrote that “two patrols increases security significantly.”
Other survey respondents mentioned that they don’t feel safe because of the presence of guns in and outside of the community, recent car and home break-ins here, and the presence of drugs and mentally ill people here. One wrote: “Have always felt safe here, but crime and violence can happen everywhere.”
Others reported that they didn’t feel safe because of the actions of the police themselves, one noting, “I feel safe, despite the police.” Another wrote:
“As a person of color I am always somewhat concerned about becoming a victim of policing.”
Respondents added other concerns in an open-ended comment box. Nearly half of the comments were concerns about the Yellow Springs Police Department’s tactics, with mentions of racial profiling, aggressiveness, unnecessary traffic stops, militarization of the department, police brutality, and the departure from community policing.
“The Police overly target the already marginalized members of the community,” one respondent wrote, while others specified youth and people of color being singled out by police. One person wrote: “I am now afraid of the police after living here for 43 years.”
A smaller number of commenters said they supported the police, and are concerned about recent criticism of the department. One wrote: “I feel safe here and appreciate the job our police do in trying to keep on top of problems that can and sometimes do cause problems.”
Another noted: “I am concerned that Council is being bullied about the new Chief, the ‘drug task force’ and the force in general. Those criticizing have taken extreme positions, used false or misleading data, apply incidents in other places as though they happened here. They are stubbornly refusing to accept reasonable explanations and are at bottom intellectually dishonest.”
Drugs were another category of concern about which several respondents added a comment. Concerns included heroin use by local teens and heroin dealing in a local business.
“The town may not be able to admit it, or would like to look the other way,” one survey respondent wrote, “but narcotics are in the area, to include heroin being used by high school age children.”
Sexual assault and rape, which were not categories in the question, were also noted as a concern by a handful of those surveyed, and parking and speeding were also concerns. As one commenter wrote:
“I wish the speed limits were enforced so that our villagers, children and elderly could feel safer, calmer when being social in the downtown and thus help us maintain a small town atmosphere.”
Specifying what about the crimes listed concerned them, one commenter said, “Property maintenance does not concern me, crooked landlords do. Domestic violence is a symptom, not a problem. I am concerned about social services and mental health care which are things that would address the actual problem.”
Other crimes and concerns mentioned include unpermitted door-to-door solicitation, non-enforcement of junk car law, thefts from yards and buildings by “scrappers,” loud kids and animals, and guns.
Crime over time
More than 70 percent of those surveyed said they felt crime in the village has stayed the same compared to the past, with the rest of respondents split between an increase and decrease over time. The question was based upon perceptions of crime, not statistics. The News has previously reported that crime has dropped over a 10-year period here, in line with national trends.
A few commented that it seems that crime has grown here due to more drug activity, specifically “hard core” drugs like heroin and especially due to the town’s location on the U.S. 68 corridor. In clarifying their view that crime has increased here, one person wrote that they lived here for 27 years but moved recently because they didn’t feel safe in town anymore. Another wrote:
“We didn’t lock our doors when we moved here in 1994. Our house was broken into in 2006 and 2009.”
One person commented that they felt crime decreased here from the 1970s, when rape was more prevalent. Others wrote in comments that they believe the crime rate has been steady over the last 20 to 30 years. Several respondents wrote that the number of police officers, not crime, has increased over recent decades, and that crimes committed by police may be on the rise. As one survey respondent wrote:
“Strangely enough when we see the contrast between what we think of as a safe almost bucolic village, in fact terrible crimes and terrible scenes created by the police are in direct opposition to how we like to see ourselves.”
For full survey results, visit ysnews.com.