Grandview Heights police earn positive marks in community survey

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grandview Heights Division of Police Chief Ryan Starns stands next to one of the division's cruisers. The division recently conducted a community-engagement survey.

Completion of a community-engagement survey was one of Grandview Heights Division of Police Chief Ryan Starns' top goals after he was named to the position in March.

"We've never done a survey like this in our community," he said. "I wanted to try to find out how our department and our officers are perceived in the community.

"The purpose of the survey was informative only," Starns said. "We'll be using the results to help guide the policies and initiatives our department undertakes in 2021."

"It's been a tough year all around, but we have an interest in knowing how we are performing and how the community feels on the issues presented in the survey," Mayor Greta Kearns said. "It will be beneficial for the department to take the results of the survey and use them to help inform where and how resources are devoted moving forward."

The survey was conducted over a six-week period during the fall and was offered on the city's website and through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, he said. Community partners, such as Grandview Heights Schools, also posted links to the survey on their websites, and paper copies were available at the municipal building and Grandview Center.

"The main focus was our residents, but we didn't want to limit it to just residents," Starns said. "We were also interested in getting responses from people who work in our town and people from outside the community who have had contact with our department."

In total, 619 people participated in the survey, which included questions adopted from the U.S. Department of Justice designed to be used in communities similar to Grandview, he said.

Most respondents expressed positive attitudes about the department and the performance of police officers.

"We're pleased with the results, but there's always room for improvement," Starns said.

On most questions, respondents were asked to rate the department's performance on a sliding scale from 5 to 1, with 5 the top score and 1 the lowest.

The survey showed that 58% of respondents agreed that the department practices community policing by giving one of the top two scores. Seventeen percent said the department engages in community policing little or not at all.

Starns said he strongly favors the community-policing approach because it encourages a partnership among police officers, residents and businesses to work toward positive outcomes in the community.

The majority positive response to the community-policing question was pleasing, "but we know we can always do better," he said. "Our goal is always to improve the level of service we provide to the community."

Survey respondents chose thefts and burglaries as their top safety concern, followed by traffic issues/speeding and drug abuse.

The percentage of reports taken by police that involve thefts has increased from 8.5% in 2018 to about 19% through the first 11 months of 2020, Starns said.

The total number of reports taken by the department has declined by about 22% in 2020 over the previous year, he said. Much of that decrease can be attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That theft reports are increasing even as the total number of reports is declining "is somewhat alarming," Starns said.

The survey shows that 62% of respondents said their feeling of safety has stayed the same, and 14% said they are feeling safer, he said.

But that means 23%, or about 140 of the survey participants, feel less safe than before.

"I want to know why they feel that way," Starns said. "We'll be trying to reach out and do a deeper dive with those people who feel less safe to ask them why."

More than 60% of the respondents indicated they believe Grandview's officers treat people fairly, show concern and respect for community members and respond to their concerns.

A total of 69% gave a 5 or 4 rating when asked if officers have their trust.

Those numbers are heartening, Starns said.

"They were some of the questions I was most concerned about," he said.

Seventy-four percent of respondents who have had contact with Grandview police over the past year said officers sufficiently explain their actions and procedures, Starns said.

There are still 19% who said officers do not give an adequate explanation, he said.

"I'm asking our officers to make sure to explain to people the reasons behind the actions and decisions they make," Starns said.   

Kearns said she has taken a particular interest in the results regarding respondents' contact with officers, especially traffic issues.

Fifty-seven percent said they were very satisfied or satisfied when in contact with an officer on a traffic issue compared to 15% who were dissatisfied. The total percentages of those saying they left with a feeling of satisfaction after a 911 emergency call or nonemergency call was 66% and 70%, respectively.

"To walk away from an interaction with a police officer, even if they have received a citation, and rate them positively speaks volumes," Kearns said.

"The results of the survey demonstrate that our officers are out in the community and in various capacities every single day and know how to engage with our residents, employees and visitors to make a difference," she said. 

The complete survey results  are available on the police department page at grandviewheights.org/89/division-of-police.

Starns said the  community engagement survey will be conducted every year or two going forward.

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