The Salem Police Department wants people to take a survey about the strategic plan being developed to guide how the department operates in coming years.
I completed the survey today. And I could have completed it over and over, for as long as I wanted, because the survey allows people to respond more than once to it.
This alone makes the value of the survey dubious.
Letting people fill out the survey multiple times makes it vulnerable to vote manipulation by vested interests -- either pro-police or anti-police -- who want to skew the results in their favored direction.
The survey was designed using Microsoft Office. I'm a Mac user, but it was easy for me to Google "microsoft office survey multiple" and find instructions about either allowing or disallowing multiple responses.
So this is one major problem with the survey. Those responding already were going to be people especially interested in the police department. Letting them fill out the survey as many times as they want makes the results even more questionable.
Another problem is that the survey is decidedly bureaucratic. The questions don't relate to the lived experience most people have with Salem police. It's sole focus is on dry descriptions of goals and objectives, which isn't what most people care about.
Here's a screenshot of one question, which includes my response to it.
I used to design questionnaires and surveys back in my days as a health services planner/researcher. I got to be pretty good at it. This police department survey strikes me as poorly designed. It uses management language of goals and objectives even though as noted above, this isn't how ordinary people think about policing.
Further, this particular question is way too broad to provide useful feedback.
I said this objective was very important to me because how unsheltered (homeless) people are treated by police is very important to me. Otherwise, I don't think police should be much involved in traffic safety, since red light cameras and other automated means of detecting violations are more cost-effective.
As you can see from my response to the question, I also think police shouldn't respond to calls involving a mental health crisis or any other issue that could be handled better by non-police personnel.
Today the Statesman Journal had a story about the survey, "Salem police chief wants input to improve the department, community trust." Unfortunately, Police Chief Trevor Womack comes across as already knowing what he wants the survey to show -- a need for more police officers.
The plan is being developed based on anindependent audit conducted earlier this year, community and staff input and the chief's philosophy. Womack said he emphasizes making "data-driven decisions," balanced with "community trust-building."
The results of the audit, approved by the Salem City Council and released in March, recommended hiring more officers to adequately address homelessness and mental health calls, and to better engage with youth and diverse populations.
Womack, who was sworn in as police chief in December, said the survey results weren't surprising as many of the department's shortcomings in community policing are due to lack of staffing.
Well, hopefully the Salem City Council will base police department staffing decisions on the sort of "data-driven" approach Chief Womack claims he wants to use.
Councilor Vanessa Nordyke spoke clearly in a recent Facebook post about the need for a crisis team to be staffed by non-police officers. This Cahoots-style program could markedly reduce the call volume handled by the police department based on data from Eugene.
Another problem is that the Statesman Journal story repeats a claim that the Salem Police Department is seriously understaffed compared to other similarly-sized cities in the Pacific Northwest. I'm assuming that the reporter got these numbers from the police department, which appear to be wrong.
The department currently has 190 sworn officers for a population of 169,580 — about 1.1 officers per 1,000 people. In 2018, the average ratio in a Pacific Northwest city similar in size to Salem was 1.6 officers per 1,000 people.
Jim Scheppke, a retired state library director who knows how to research questions like this, sent me his response to the Statesman Journal reporter who wrote today's story about the police survey.
Ms. Barreda: I would like to request a correction to your article today about the Salem Police Department. This statement is inaccurate or at best misleading:
"In 2018, the average ratio in a Pacific Northwest city similar in size to Salem was 1.6 officers per 1,000 people.”
And the general impression given by your article that the Salem Police Department is understaffed is just not true when you consider the entire staff and not just the sworn officers.
Attached is a spreadsheet with some tables that were derived from the latest data for 2019 collected by the FBI. There is a URL at the bottom of each table where you can go to verify the data if you wish.
The first table shows staffing for all Oregon cities with populations greater than 30,000. It is sorted by total employees per 1,000. It shows that only one other Oregon city had more police department employees per 1,000 than Salem did! It is true that many of these cities had more officers per 1,000 than Salem did, but Salem’s number is comparable to similar cities like Eugene and Corvallis and it is not that far off the average.
Another table widens the scope to cities between 100,000 and 200,000 in the Pacific Northwest. Again Salem has the second highest number of total employees per 1,000. The average number of officers per 1,000 is only 1.21, not 1.6 as reported in your story, though I realize this is 2019 data and not 2018 data.
Another table widens the scope further to include cities up to 300,000 in the Pacific Northwest and again the average number of officers per 1,000 is only 1.28. Here Salem has the third highest number of total employees per 1,000.
The last table is from 2018, with cities in the Pacific Northwest between 100,000 and 300,000. It shows the average number of officers to be 1.29 per 1,000.
The number you reported in your article may have included other cities, but I don’t see how an average of 1.6 officers per 1,000 could be accurate.
My spreadsheet also includes two smaller tables side by side that compare staffing at the SPD and that at our public library. While the SPD has the highest total staffing per 1,000 of these cities in Oregon, our library has by far the lowest!
If Chief Womack or one of his staff was the source for the seemingly erroneous figure of 1.6 officers per 1000 population in cities comparable in size to Salem, Womack needs to explain where he got that figure, since it doesn't match up with the statistics cited by Jim Scheppke.