This story was originally published on May 27, 2018.

By Roberto E. Alejandro, Editor-in-Chief

Survey Background (skip to the Findings)


Anthony Anderson. Tyrone West. Kollin Truss. Freddie Gray. Consent decree.

It has not been an easy past six years for the Baltimore Police Department. They are now on their fifth commissioner in that time frame (Frederick Bealefeld, Anthony Batts, Kevin Davis, Darryl De Sousa, and Gary Tuggle), and have watched homicide rates challenge historic marks each of the past three years. Add to that the killings and assaults of unarmed Black residents, the most prominent of which led to riots and a Justice Department consent decree between 2015-6, and one might be forgiven for assuming that police-community relations have been strained in Baltimore, especially its inner-city neighborhoods, well beyond reasonable repair.

But StayUp.News’s coverage of Baltimore’s predominantly Black, inner city communities suggested we should not be so quick to rush to that conclusion. Anecdotally, we understood that many residents, especially those that are engaged in the city’s civic life—whether through politics or neighborhood associations or even simply home ownership—tended to express a desire for good relations with the police, but also a reliance upon them. These residents tend to be older, with significant financial investments (such as a home) in the city, and so they have a stake in the functioning of its institutions, like the Baltimore Police Department.

But we have also heard statements from persons, themselves engaged in illegal street activities, that gave us pause as to our assumptions about the way “the community” feels about its police. The following clips all involve persons who are either drug dealers or gang members, discussing the issue of policing in Baltimore:

At some point, when even the streets are not that low on the police, one has to be willing to challenge their assumptions about the lay of the land where Baltimore’s police-community relations are concerned.

That conviction precipitated the development of this survey, which represents an attempt to obtain objective data from Baltimore’s inner-city communities about their feelings towards the police. In Baltimore, whether police officials, politicians, activists, or journalists, everyone seems to have a narrative about the state of police-community relations, but no one ever seems to have any data to ground their claims. The consequence is that all of these stakeholders in Baltimore’s politics silence the communities they are speaking about, by never speaking to them in the first place.

How the Survey Was Conducted (Methodology)

In thinking about police-community relations, and because we are a publication that derives its methods from a Hip-Hop perspective, we wanted to ensure that a survey on this issue reached not just those civically engaged Baltimoreans mentioned earlier, but persons who have lower levels of participation in Baltimore’s formal systems, and especially persons who live or work in Baltimore’s streets.

Based on StayUp.News’s experience of Baltimore, we targeted three inner city neighborhoods: Cherry Hill in the south, Sandtown-Winchester in the west, and McElderry Park in the east. We teamed with a community liaison in each neighborhood to help make introductions and vouch for the survey we were undertaking. We felt this was important because trust in media can be low in inner-city neighborhoods, and we wanted to make sure we did not come off as complete outsiders in these communities, but as a media institution that was already invested there with real relationships. As part of our work documenting poverty and other social issues through coverage of Hip-Hop culture, we have interviewed community advocates, drug dealers, gang members, artists of all stripes, homeless persons, authors, policy experts, sex workers, and law-abiding citizens alike. We have spent countless hours in some of Baltimore’s worst neighborhoods simply chopping it up with locals as they went about their day (let’s face it, artists aren’t always timely, so sometimes we have time to kill before an interview), in addition to interviewing folks for our content. The three neighborhoods targeted were all places that StayUp has come to know through our work, and it is through that work that we established our relationships with the liaisons.

Those liaisons were community member and advocate Latefa Dorsey in Cherry Hill, community member and advocate Keith Figgs in Sandtown, and Hip-Hop artist and community advocate Sorcez Dieniro in McElderry Park. The survey was conducted by StayUp.News editor-in-chief Roberto E. Alejandro, using an internet connected mobile device to read the survey questions to respondents and record their answers. Alejandro and the liaisons walked around the communities stopping and speaking to people as they went. No personally identifiable information was collected in an effort to ensure the anonymity of respondents, but demographic information was collected on sex, race, level of education, and neighborhood where the survey was taken.

The survey asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with 10 statements, five related to trust and five related to police efficacy, on a scale of 1-10, where a score of one means “completely disagree,” and a score of 10 means “completely agree.” The following 10 tables provide the statements and the number of times each potential response was recorded in our survey (or Frequency). For example, in Table 1, below, the frequency of 20 for the response 1 (completely disagree) means that out of the 76 persons surveyed, 20 of them responded 1 (completely disagree) to this statement.

The following five tables represent the first five survey statements, on the issue of trust:

Table 1: I would ask a police officer for directions if I was lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

20

26.3

26.3

26.3

2

2

2.6

2.6

28.9

4

2

2.6

2.6

31.6

5

9

11.8

11.8

43.4

6

1

1.3

1.3

44.7

7

1

1.3

1.3

46.1

8

2

2.6

2.6

48.7

9

3

3.9

3.9

52.6

10

36

47.4

47.4

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 2: I would call the police to report a crime if someone threatened me with physical violence.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

39

51.3

51.3

51.3

2

1

1.3

1.3

52.6

3

4

5.3

5.3

57.9

4

2

2.6

2.6

60.5

5

6

7.9

7.9

68.4

6

1

1.3

1.3

69.7

7

2

2.6

2.6

72.4

8

3

3.9

3.9

76.3

9

1

1.3

1.3

77.6

10

17

22.4

22.4

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 3: I would call the police to report a crime if someone broke into my home.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

17

22.4

22.4

22.4

2

1

1.3

1.3

23.7

3

1

1.3

1.3

25.0

4

1

1.3

1.3

26.3

5

6

7.9

7.9

34.2

7

5

6.6

6.6

40.8

8

3

3.9

3.9

44.7

9

3

3.9

3.9

48.7

10

39

51.3

51.3

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 4: I would call the police to report a crime I believe may have been committed by a juvenile.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

34

44.7

44.7

44.7

2

2

2.6

2.6

47.4

3

2

2.6

2.6

50.0

4

2

2.6

2.6

52.6

5

15

19.7

19.7

72.4

6

1

1.3

1.3

73.7

8

1

1.3

1.3

75.0

9

1

1.3

1.3

76.3

10

18

23.7

23.7

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 5: I feel anxious when I see a police officer or police car. (Reverse scored).

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1.00

22

28.9

28.9

28.9

2.00

3

3.9

3.9

32.9

3.00

6

7.9

7.9

40.8

4.00

3

3.9

3.9

44.7

5.00

1

1.3

1.3

46.1

6.00

4

5.3

5.3

51.3

8.00

1

1.3

1.3

52.6

9.00

1

1.3

1.3

53.9

10.00

35

46.1

46.1

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

The following tables represent the final five survey statements, on the issue of police effecicacy (effectiveness in addressing issues of public safety):

Table 6: I think police officers effectively reduce crime.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

37

48.7

48.7

48.7

3

6

7.9

7.9

56.6

5

12

15.8

15.8

72.4

6

4

5.3

5.3

77.6

7

5

6.6

6.6

84.2

8

2

2.6

2.6

86.8

10

10

13.2

13.2

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 7: I think city officials effectively hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

46

60.5

60.5

60.5

2

3

3.9

3.9

64.5

3

3

3.9

3.9

68.4

4

2

2.6

2.6

71.1

5

10

13.2

13.2

84.2

6

3

3.9

3.9

88.2

7

2

2.6

2.6

90.8

10

7

9.2

9.2

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 8: I think city officials create policy that help reduce crime.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

33

43.4

43.4

43.4

2

3

3.9

3.9

47.4

3

3

3.9

3.9

51.3

4

3

3.9

3.9

55.3

5

14

18.4

18.4

73.7

6

3

3.9

3.9

77.6

7

5

6.6

6.6

84.2

8

4

5.3

5.3

89.5

10

8

10.5

10.5

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 9: I think police officers have a good working-relationship with the community.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

42

55.3

55.3

55.3

2

2

2.6

2.6

57.9

3

6

7.9

7.9

65.8

4

4

5.3

5.3

71.1

5

10

13.2

13.2

84.2

6

4

5.3

5.3

89.5

7

3

3.9

3.9

93.4

8

1

1.3

1.3

94.7

10

4

5.3

5.3

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Table 10: I think city officials have a good working-relationship with the community where matters of public safety are concerned.

Response (Scale: 1-10)

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

1

34

44.7

45.3

45.3

2

3

3.9

4.0

49.3

3

8

10.5

10.7

60.0

4

5

6.6

6.7

66.7

5

11

14.5

14.7

81.3

6

3

3.9

4.0

85.3

7

4

5.3

5.3

90.7

8

3

3.9

4.0

94.7

10

4

5.3

5.3

100.0

Total

75

98.7

100.0

Missing

System

1

1.3

Total

76

100.0

The survey was conducted on April 27 (Sandtown) and 28 (Cherry Hill and McElderry Park), prior to the most recent change in police commissioner, collecting 76 responses in total. Of the respondents, 85.5 percent self-identified as “Black/African American/African/Caribbean,” a figure that speaks to the level of segregation in inner-city Baltimore. The approximately remaining 14.5 percent consisted of “White/Caucasian/European” (5.3 percent), “Native American/Alaskan Native,” (2.6 percent), “Other” (2.6 percent), “Native American/Alaskan Native” AND “White/Caucasian/European” (1.3 percent), and 2.6 percent of the sample preferred not to respond to the race question.

Approximately 70 percent of respondents were male, an imbalance that will have to be addressed with adjustments to the methodology for future surveys, while 85.5 percent of all respondents had less than a college education (that is, they completed only high school or below). Nineteen surveys were collected in Sandtown-Winchester, 29 in Cherry Hill, and 28 in McElderry Park.

We do not make the claim that our pool of respondents make up a representative sample of Baltimore at large. Our survey was focused on inner-city neighborhoods, and we particularly wanted to ensure that persons involved in Baltimore’s informal economies (“the streets”) were represented in the data. We are confident our approach to the survey achieved that, but traditional methods of establishing a representative sample, such as using a registered voter list, inevitably excludes persons who are actively engaged in the streets, since voting and other participation in formal systems is low among these individuals. To put what we believe we accomplished in more Hip-Hop terms, we believe the survey is reflective of opinions on police-community relations in “the hood,” but this term should not be read to mean that the three neighborhoods are the same simply because that term may apply to all. Respondents in Cherry Hill showed higher levels of trust than in Sandtown-Winchester and McElderry Park, this is not a main finding of the survey, and it may be purely a function of the relative age of the survey respondents in each community (age will receive more focus further below), but it speaks to the way that the hood is not a monolith and should not be treated as such.

Findings

Main Findings:

Based on the data collected using the method described above, there are two principal findings from this survey:

  1. There is a statistically significant correlation between age and trust in the police, with older Baltimoreans showing generally higher levels of trust than younger ones (50% of our respondents were age 41 or older). That there is a statistically significant correlation means that our finding that older respondents showed higher levels of trust is not likely due to chance. While the correlation is not super strong, it is nonetheless real.
  2. There is a high level of variability in the levels of trust expressed by Baltimoreans in their police force, making it impossible to reduce police-community dynamics in Baltimore to a single or simple narrative.

The high variability in the responses means that opinions about police are not wholly good nor wholly bad, and there is enough trust there, especially among older residents, for the Baltimore Police Department to make headway in its efforts to improve its working-relationship with the community. It also means that, in thinking about addressing Baltimore’s public safety issues, police-community relations may not be as important an area of focus as the discussion in Baltimore would seem to suggest at times.

On the five trust questions, 50 percent of those responding to the survey gave a cumulative rating of 29 or above on a scale of 50 (five questions worth up to 10 points each; see “Table 11” below). A cumulative rating of 29 comes out to an average rating of approximately six for each of the five trust questions. To use an analogy, on the five trust questions, half of respondents gave the Baltimore Police Department a ‘D’ grade or above, suggesting that even if the relationship between the police and community could be better, it is not broken, and there is a demographic (older Baltimoreans) already inclined toward greater levels of trust in the police, which gives the Baltimore Police Department a starting point in any efforts to improve the current state of affairs between the police and inner-city communities.

Table 11: Variability of Cumulative Scores on Trust

Cumulative Score on Trust Questions (Max Possible Score: 50)

No. of Respondents Who Gave That Score

Percent

Valid Percent

Cumulative Percent

Valid

5

5

6.6

6.6

6.6

8

1

1.3

1.3

7.9

9

3

3.9

3.9

11.8

11

2

2.6

2.6

14.5

12

1

1.3

1.3

15.8

13

3

3.9

3.9

19.7

14

7

9.2

9.2

28.9

15

1

1.3

1.3

30.3

18

2

2.6

2.6

32.9

20

1

1.3

1.3

34.2

22

1

1.3

1.3

35.5

23

3

3.9

3.9

39.5

24

2

2.6

2.6

42.1

27

2

2.6

2.6

44.7

29

4

5.3

5.3

50.0

30

1

1.3

1.3

51.3

31

4

5.3

5.3

56.6

32

5

6.6

6.6

63.2

33

1

1.3

1.3

64.5

34

1

1.3

1.3

65.8

35

1

1.3

1.3

67.1

36

2

2.6

2.6

69.7

37

1

1.3

1.3

71.1

38

1

1.3

1.3

72.4

39

1

1.3

1.3

73.7

40

2

2.6

2.6

76.3

41

3

3.9

3.9

80.3

43

2

2.6

2.6

82.9

44

1

1.3

1.3

84.2

45

3

3.9

3.9

88.2

46

2

2.6

2.6

90.8

50

7

9.2

9.2

100.0

Total

76

100.0

100.0

Food for Thought:
While the regressions run as part of our data analysis only suggest a statistically significant correlation between age and trust, the data suggests that Baltimoreans with higher levels of education (college or above) have lower levels of trust in the police than those with lower levels of education (high school or below). Considering that persons with college educations probably tend to have fewer direct interactions with police in Baltimore, it is possible that persons whose understanding of police-community relations is more informed by news reports, academic discourses, or other studies and literature on the matter, than by direct experiences, have a more negative view of police, despite having less skin in the game.

This is a problem to the extent those more educated voices tend to drown out less educated ones in the public sphere, because it means voices whose opinions are not reflective of those most in regular contact with the police are setting the terms for how policing should be changed or reformed. In future surveys, we will hope to obtain more data in order to better understand how education levels may be impacting the debate around police-community relations in inner-city spaces. As the data currently stands from this initial pilot survey, it could simply be that the college-educated respondents we spoke too were generally younger than the high school or below respondents, and so this somewhat counterintuitive result on education could really be a function of age. But in light of the risk that more privileged persons, by way of their education, may pose to efforts to improve police-community relations if their unrepresentative views come to dominate the debate about how to proceed, it may be worth at least being wary of what more educated voices have to say on this question until we have a clearer sense of how education impacts views on police-community relations in Baltimore.

It should also be noted, that while the news for the Baltimore Police Department out of this survey is not particularly damning, Baltimore’s elected officials may have more work to do where their role in the question of police-community relations is most implicated: their ability to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

Of the 10 survey statements rated by our respondents, the question with the lowest average rating was “I think city officials effectively hold police officers accountable for misconduct,” with an average score of 2.9, well below failing (50%, or a score of 5) to return to our report card analogy. It could be, that on the question of police-community relations, our elected officials have further ground to make up than does the police department.

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