City Police Reform Task Force Seeks Community Help But Survey is Seriously Flawed

I received a request from Jason Golub to assist in soliciting the public to take a survey developed by the Police Reform Task Force that he co-chairs.

I have major reservations about the survey which I document in this post. Having said that, it is important that the goal of strengthening our police force has this community’s involvement so in spite of my reservations, I still would encourage the readers of this blog to participate in the survey and to engage in the public discussion that the final report by the task force will generate.

The task force was established by the City Council in response to an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced new guidance for the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which was established by the Governor’s Executive Order in June. The guidance offers a framework and topics for consideration by local police departments, elected officials and citizens as they develop their local plans for reform. Per the Governor’s Executive Order, every locality must adopt a plan for reform by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding. 

August 17, 2020

Mr. Golub wrote the following introduction to the survey:

As part of the ongoing work of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force to develop a plan and recommendations around police strategies and program reform in Saratoga Springs, we have put together the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Community Survey. While not intended to be exhaustive, the goal of the survey is to both understand concerns community members have, but also get additional community input on areas where the task force is considering recommendations for policy or practice change. Input from community members is critical to our work and the survey is an important element of ensuring the community’s voice is heard by both the task force and the police.

The survey takes 5 minutes to complete. Please feel free to post/distribute to other members of the community. Thank you!

But Here are some Problems:

An Odd Collaboration

The initial draft for this survey was done by John Schroeder who is not a member of the Task Force. It is not clear how or why he was chosen to create this document. He is also personally hosting the survey and its results. Mr. Schroeder has been an outspoken critic of the city’s police department and of the Commissioner of Public Safety , Robin Dalton. He has submitted some forty-four FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests for documents related to the police department. Most recently he was awarded money from the city for a FOIL request that was sent to him seven days late per FOIL requirements.

I am deeply troubled that it is not clear whether his application will be able to harvest IP addresses from participants in the survey. An IP address is the unique identifier for a computer and can be used to track people. Survey software normally is able to save the IP address of people who participate.

I think that Mr. Schroeder deserves a great deal of credit for his dedication in working for police reform. He is a voice that deserves engagement.

Having said that, I think his role in drafting the survey and, more importantly, hosting the data collection and storage is problematic.

This Survey Will Provide Feedback To The Task Force But Will Not Provide Meaningful Statistics

While this survey will provide some feedback to the task force, it cannot be used to provide a complete snapshot of how this community feels about policing.

Providing a more accurate picture of the community’s opinion would require a random sample. This survey is simply based on responses from whomever happens to know about it and is willing to take the time to fill it out.

The survey also does not utilize technology to limit participants from responding to the survey more than once. An enterprising person could fill the survey out as many times as they have the patience to do so.

There are troubling problems with some of the questions

The following are some of the questions in the survey that I find problematic and seem to have many characteristics of a push poll. A push poll according to Wikipedia “is an interactive marketing technique…in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter …views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll.”

Question #9 asks the survey taker to respond to a number of statements. It reads:

Please indicate which of the following changes to policing you support:

For all of the following statements the user can only select one of the following answers:

Support – Don’t Support – Not Sure

One of the statements reads: Ending profiling, “Stop and Frisk”, and policing of minor issues

One of the classic ways that polling is abused is by crafting questions whose real purpose is less to gather information and more to send a subtle message to sway participants . In this case asking if one supports “ending” these three practices sends the message that these are currently in effect in Saratoga Springs. I know that profiling and stop and frisk are not city policies. Are there ongoing abuses? I don’t know, but the question should be drafted to be neutral. Choosing not sure indicates you don’t know if you would support these changes or not.

The vast majority of people in our community I believe would oppose racial profiling and “stop and frisk.” They may answer “support” without realizing that their answer implies that they believe the police currently are guilty of these activities.

In addition this is really three questions rather than one. This violates basic best practices for surveys. What if you, the person filling out the questionnaire, believe in ending one but not all of these activities?

For instance there is the problem with the third part of this “question” which is extremely vague: ending of “policing of minor issues.” I would expect that many who take this survey will not know what is meant by a “minor issue”.

I believe this is a reference to the grossly abusive tactics established in New York City called “the broken window” strategy. This policy assumed that by arresting people for minor violations that it would suppress crime in general. This policy evolved into a system where police in New York City were assigned quotas for arrests in order to effectively carry out the policy. The subsequent litigation over this policy documented the arrest of people for infractions that were routinely arbitrary and often without merit. For example, people were arrested for obstructing sidewalks when they were chatting with someone on the street and there was plenty of room to walk around them. The vast percentage of these arrests were of people of color.

While I suspect this is what “policing of minor issues” is referencing the wording is so vague that I can’t be sure.

I don’t know what the intention of the people who crafted this question was, but this question clearly has a message. It may perhaps simply reflect the unconscious prejudice of the authors rather than be a pernicious effort to manipulate.

I, like most citizens in this city I think ,oppose racial profiling and the arbitrary use of stop and frisk. Unfortunately, I did not know how to respond to the issue of “policing minor issues” due to its vagueness so I was unable to comfortably select any of the possible answers in spite of the fact that it was a required field. I could not continue with the survey without making a selection so I was forced to make an uncomfortable choice.

Another statement participants are asked to respond to is did they support:

Banning No Knock, and Knock and Enter warrants

I know what a no knock entry is (Breonna Taylor died as a result of a no knock debacle). I do not know what a “knock and enter warrant” is. Is it when the police knock and announce themselves just before they force their way into a building? Is it when police knock and announce themselves and if the occupant doesn’t answer the door they force their way in?

The problem is that here again there are two questions rolled into one so if I did support ending “no knock warrants” but not “knock and enter” there is no way of registering this kind of response.

I think there are legitimate arguments both for and against the policy of no knock warrants but without more information about what a knock and enter warrant is I have difficulty answering this question. I do think these are important issues for our city to consider.

Here is another statement participants are asked to respond to:

Requiring de-escalation and strict guidelines on using force, especially deadly force

This again presumes that the city does not already require “de-escalation and strict guidelines on using force, especially deadly force.” In fact these are currently official city policies. A more relevant question would be to ask whether “to your knowledge does the city adhere to these policies?”

Given the gravity of the need to minimize violence, the idea, as assumed by this question, that the city lacks these policies is an implicit criticism of the police department’s management rather than a serious attempt to gain insights from respondents.

Here is another statement in this section:

Prioritizing resources towards rigorous training to reinforce policies, including testing for bias in shoot/don’t shoot decision making

This again this has a “push poll” quality to it. It gives the participant in the survey the impression that the city does not already “prioritize rigorous training to reinforce policies…”

Contrasting The Schenectady Survey With The Saratoga Springs Survey

Schenectady’s task force is called the “Schenectady Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.” They collaborated with the John Finn Institute for Public Safety, an independent research firm to craft their survey and to collect and analyze survey responses. The difference in terms of the quality of their survey and the Saratoga Springs survey is striking. Its questions are clear and direct. Unlike the Saratoga Springs survey, each question allows the person filling out the survey to answer “I don’t know.”

One of the most confusing elements of Saratoga’s survey is that it appears to ask the user to make determinations about the success or failure of the city in a variety of areas. I know that I balked at these questions because I was in no position to know. The Schenectady survey has crafted similar questions but in those cases the user is asked about his/her impression rather than asking the person to make an actual determination.

Consider this excerpt from the Schenectady survey:

We’d like to begin by asking a few questions about your opinions of the Schenectady Police

Please indicate the response that most closely fits how you feel (my emphasis) about the Schenectady Police Department.

1. THE LEADERSHIP OF THE SCHENECTADY POLICE DEPARTMENT IS RECEPTIVE TO CHANGE/INNOVATION.

Agree strongly Agree Somewhat Disagree Disagree strongly Don’t know

Schenectady Survey

Contrast that approach to Saratoga’s survey:

Do you agree with the following statements?

1. The SSPD works together with community members to solve local problems.

Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

Saratoga Springs Survey

Nevertheless Support The Task Force’s Efforts

Having raised these criticisms, I still believe that responses to this survey may help the task force in its deliberations and I would encourage the readers of this blog to take the time to do the survey.

This is a link to the survey.

9 thoughts on “City Police Reform Task Force Seeks Community Help But Survey is Seriously Flawed”

  1. This blogger addressed the special inconsistencies and push-pole intricacies that make this survey a sham. Changing our system of policing is nigh impossible, without the abolition of police unions.This performance is a charade.

    The underlying fact of the need for incarceration is obfuscated. The correction industry in this country is predicated on the fact that poor people, who don’t add to the wealth of the society when they are free, do add wealth to the society when they are incarcerated. Figures range from $40,000 to $60,000 per year, as to the worth of people housed in prisons. The value of each person locked-up, is a grand example of the trickle-up effect. Those figures reflect what monies are extracted from the taxing of the general population and distributed to the owners of the penal institutions who then charge whichever taxing district is paying them. Those monies then filter throughout the system from employees to management, and then ultimately to shareholders.
    Poor, and especially people of color, are a very important component of this extraction of wealth on our deteriorating society.

    Like

  2. The first questions on the survey ask you to declare race. The race card is being played strongly in politics today and this seems to be another political hit job to me against the PD. It’s being pushed by a political activist. Count me out. Yes PD can be improved but approach all wrong.

    Further tracking of IP address big red flag What so cancel culture can be used against someone with opposing view?

    I’m I wrong? Willing to consider validity of my thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Asking to declare someone’s race on a survey is doing the same thing the police department is often accused of in racial profiling. If it’s bad in policing what makes it acceptable in a survey ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a very real problem across the country where white people and black people are treated differently by the police, so it does make sense that a survey about the police would ask about race. If done properly, the survey could show how different groups, by things like race, as well as age or location, interact with and view the police. Your usage of the antiquated term “race card” makes it seem like you might not agree with that, but I’m going to ignore that for now, given the abundant evidence that the police and criminal justice systems don’t always treat people equally.

        Unfortunately, as the blog points out, this attempt at a survey is broken in multiple ways, to the point it likely isn’t useful for anything other than frustrating people no matter their beliefs.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been attending these committee meetings as a community participant. I believe there is an honest effort being made by some of the task force members, however there are a couple I disagree with almost across the board- those weighing personal opinion too heavily without even trying to hide it. It’s easy to pick out the members who clearly feel that no change is needed, and the community has no role to play in terms of input, let alone any role working collaboratively with the police.

      One interesting element of these meetings now that they are on zoom is the chat function. As someone who has only lived here in Saratoga for 5 years, I found 3 other transplants to the city who like myself expressed shock and disbelief at a lot of the themes present in these meetings which reflect on Saratoga as a whole. We’ve exchanged several private messages both during and after meetings.

      I want to reiterate that some on this task force are making an earnest, authentic and meaningful effort to enact change, despite knowing it’s an uphill, likely un winnable fight. I believe Jason is much more open to dialogue with community members/recommendations than his co chair Camille. I am hoping to find time to meet with him outside of the meetings as he has offered to do so.

      One topic which has not been addressed (to my knowledge, I missed the last one) is alternatives to the punitive policing of our homeless population. I plan on bringing this up this week.

      I highly recommend taking the time to “attend” every other Wednesday. It’s well worth the time to see and hear it in action.

      Like

  3. I have to agree that given all the faults of the survey, the results are essentially useless. It’s especially unfortunate that the task force would allow this to be conducted through a private citizen with the history that Mr. Schroeder has.

    Liked by 1 person

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