Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Some of them even go so far as to poll people who have been arrested and ask, “were you treated fairly?”
On Tuesday, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary released its 2015 report on Police Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Legitimacy. It’s essentially an annual report card that measures the performance of every police department in England and Wales. This year it’s mostly decent news—5 “outstanding” grades, 29 “good” departments, 8 “requires improvement” scores—although it does include, for the first time, one “inadequate.” (Better pick it up, Humberside.)
One of the elements used to asses a police department’s PEEL performance comes from surveys routinely administered by police departments in the U.K. Turns out, British law-enforcement agencies are in the habit of regularly asking their communities, “How’s my policing?” Some departments even go so far as to poll people who have been arrested.
“They’re rung up and they’re asked about what’s happened, how they were treated, their views about the officers and the issues and things,” said Rob Beckley, deputy chief constable and chief operating officer for the College of Policing, during a session Tuesday at The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit in London.
There are two categories of consumer surveys for police in the United Kindgom: confidence and satisfaction. Confidence surveys are run by the national Home Office, Beckley says. They’re statistically significant surveys of each of the 43 police departments in the U.K. (One reason such surveys are feasible: The U.K. has just 43 police departments, whereas the U.S. boasts some 16,000 police departments.)
Satisfaction surveys are different than confidence surveys. For satisfaction surveys, police departments ask a random sample of people who have had some kind of interaction with the police about their specific experience. “It brings out the issue of fairness,” Beckley says. “On the whole, if they’re treated fairly, they’ll say, ‘I was treated fairly.’ It’s very revealing, the stuff they’ll say about it.”
The surveys help police to standardize practices across rural, suburban, and metropolitan police departments. In some places, the scores can’t be helped: parts of “grimy Manchester” will always rate the police negatively, Beckley says. Nevertheless, departments use the surveys to better understand the pillars of consumer satisfaction and train officers on, well, customer service. One of the main things that police have discovered from surveys is that people really like when officers walk a community beat and really, really dislike when they don’t hear back from anyone after they issue a complaint.
“If you really work hard on your community policing, it makes a difference in the confidence people have,” Beckley says.
Beckley, who led the Avon and Somerset Constabulary's response to the riots in England in 2011, said that his department did implement a satisfaction survey of people who have been arrested. Not all departments do it, he notes. But the results can be surprising. People who have been arrested do not necessarily judge the performance of police more harshly than those who haven’t.
“They’ll say, ‘treated with respect,’ even if they deny the issue,” Beckley says. “I might deny that I did that offense. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to be treated—excuse my language—as if I’m an asshole.”