Policing Neighborhoods

by Naomi Ritter

In 1992, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith announced plans to implement community policing. Since 1993, the city's Department of Public Safety and the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) have funded comprehensive annual surveys of residents' opinions in each IPD service district to support this implementation. Roger Parks, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, and Kenna Davis Quinet, an assistant professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, designed and conducted these surveys, which offer the city a wealth of information on neighborhood problems and police services. Quinet and Parks canvassed 12,000 people by phone in three survey phases in 1993, 1995, and 1996. They analyzed the results of these interviews, conducted by IUB's Center for Survey Research, in implementation reports for the north, south, east, and west police districts of Indianapolis.

Considering the public sentiment that crime tops our list of national urban problems, the surveys yielded some unexpected results. Surprisingly, theft, vandalism, and assault were not the most common complaints. According to Quinet, only about one-third of the responses highlighted crime, while one-third stressed neighborhood deterioration, including litter and uncollected trash, and one third focused on various other problems, such as traffic congestion, pollution, and inadequate sewage control. About eighty percent of residents expressed satisfaction with police services.

To cover residents' concerns as thoroughly as possible, Parks and Quinet devised two approaches to questioning. First they asked respondents to define the important problems themselves; then the interviewers named seven specific concerns the researchers had already defined, and asked the residents to rank these topics as major, minor, or unimportant problems. In the 1996 survey of about 5,000 residents, drug dealing ranked highest as a major problem; the second most prevalent concern was litter and trash; and the third was loitering.

The implementation reports organize the surveys' findings into five sections: characteristics of the district samples, neighborhood problems, perceptions of crime and safety, neighborhood police visibility, and contact and satisfaction with police services. Statistical information provides the percentage of responses in the relevant categories for each survey year, the previous survey year, and the percentage of change. The resulting profile of neighborhood perceptions serves the IPD as an essential tool for determining actual conditions on their beats. Since the surveys address both the physical environment and the residents' reactions to it, police officers may use this information to evaluate their role in effectively maintaining public safety.

Besides providing useful profiles, the surveys and reports offer neighborhood groups precise information for focusing their own priorities. If they decide that a perceived high rate of burglary warrants increased police protection, they may address such demands to the IPD using the survey results to prove their point. If the survey shows inadequate sanitation as a major problem, they may lobby the Health and Hospitals Corporation for increased attention to their area. No other city in the country has a program as in-depth as this one, although Chicago has an elaborate system of monitoring police effectiveness. Only the Parks-Quinet program, however, serves both the police department and residents' groups. "The city cannot adequately police its neighborhoods, respond to residents' concerns, or demonstrate the effectiveness of its crime prevention programs and strategies without solid research as a basis for decision making," Quinet says. "We provide the research, and the city and IPD provide our laboratory."

Cathy Allender, a mounted policewoman, surveys one of the downtown neighborhoods in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Police Department mounted unit plays a vital role in policing downtown Indianapolis, as well as in helping with crowd and traffic control at special events and visiting schools and neighborhood events. Kenna Davis Quinet, Assistant Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is vice president of the Indianapolis Mounted Police Association.