Public Safety Surveys for Smaller Law Enforcement Agencies

Internal & Community Surveys

Questionnaires are typically used for survey research to determine the current status or to estimate the distribution of characteristics in a population. The effective use of an agency's internal survey or a community safety survey can allow an agency to respond to their employee's and communities needs in ways that can improve satisfaction and support. Agencies can use the results of the survey as a catalyst for continued improvement.

  • Getting started can be daunting but much of the questionnaire construction is common sense. Some ground rules to keep in mind when writing a survey include the following:  
  • Each question should relate directly to your survey objectives.  
  • Every respondent should be able to answer every question (unless instructed otherwise).  
  • Each question should be phrased so that all respondents interpret it the same way.  
  • Each question should provide answers to what you need to know, not what would be nice to know.

 

Objective

First, determine the objective of the survey. What do I want to know? Having a clear, quantitative survey objective helps you define the scope of your survey and measure its success following completion.

 

Attributes

 

Next, decide the attribute you want to measure. As with determining the objective, choose which attribute to measure based on your objectives to compliment the data evaluation you plan to complete. Some attributes you may choose to measure include:

 

  • Attitude
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Behaviors and practices
  • Perceptions of knowledge, skills or behavior
  • Goals, intentions, aspirations
  • Demographics

 

Of course, it's possible you might measure more than one attribute, but the questions will be clearly different based on the information you are trying to gather.

 

Audience

 

Determine who your audience is. Are you seeking information from your department, the elderly, students, or citizens as a whole for example? Identifying your audience will affect how you compose your questionnaire.

 

Measurement

 

Use scales that are appropriate for the audience and for the information needed. Some choices are:

 

Fixed Response (Quantitative)
  • Yes-No
  • Multiple Choice
  • Rating scale/Continuum - A typical question using a Likert Scale might ask the respondent:
    How satisfied are you with the courtesy of the officers?
    • Very Satisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Neutral
    • Dissatisfied
    • Very Dissatisfied.
  • Rank ordering – These questions ask the respondent to assign a ranking to a list of items.

 

What do you think are the current policing priorities of this Department? (Please rank the TOP THREE – 1 being the most important)

 

___ Responding to Emergency Calls
___ Service Calls and Assistance
___ Promoting Police-Community
___ Crime Prevention
___ Traffic Regulations & Enforcement
___ Public Order Maintenance
___ Drug & Alcohol Enforcement
___ Encouraging Voluntary Compliane of Laws & Regulations
___ Education
___ Problem Solving
___ Other:___________________________

These questions are quick to answer, which facilitates analyzing the results. Occasionally, however, fixed response questions may draw misleading conclusions because the respondent cannot qualify responses, e.g. "Yes, but…" or "It depends" where only Yes/No are given as options.

 

Narrative Response (Qualitative):

 

Narrative responses allow respondents greater freedom of expression. There is no bias due to limited response ranges and the respondents can qualify their answers. On the other hand, these responses are time consuming to code and the researcher may misinterpret (and therefore misclassify) a response.

 

Reliability

 

Finally, check the reliability of your survey before it is distributed. Conduct a test of a few respondents and analyze the results to determine if you are receiving the information you need or if the question/s need rephrasing.

 

The Final Product

 

Once you have a clear objective, determined who will receive your survey and the survey is written, you next must invite the respondents to participate. Communicate the reason for the survey in the introduction. Identifying at least one tangible or intangible benefit to respondents for answering the survey will help you compose an invitation that encourages respondents to complete the survey. A tangible benefit could be in the form of money or a gift; whereas an intangible benefit is a chance to voice opinions or contribute to research they view as valuable. There are five main parts of an invitation:

  • Introduction
  • Why the respondents have been selected to respond
  • How long will the survey take
  • What benefit will they get for responding
  • How their responses will be used / confidentiality

 

This chapter features surveys used by the: Durham Police Department, NH; Lexington Police Department, MA; and Geddes Police Department, NY. Each agency incorporated many of these strategies into their survey design. Some agencies used help from a nearby university. There are also many web-based survey instruments available to assist in this process.

 

To post your survey or for more information contact:

Christina Horst
800-THE-IACP Ext. 837


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