The Seattle Public Safety Survey was launched in 2015 with the Seattle Police Department’s Micro-Community Policing Plans as a collaborative initiative between Seattle University and the police department. Now in its sixth year, the survey is a tool unique to Seattle that collects annual data on community perceptions of public safety at the neighborhood level. Aggregate findings from the survey are publicly available on the SPD MCPP website. Survey findings inform police resource allocation so that the police can appropriately respond to the needs and concerns of everyone, not just a vocal and/or advantaged few.
The survey is founded on the recognition that crime perceptions matter. If one person in the community has a diminished quality of life because they do not trust the police, are afraid of crime, experience their surroundings as disorganized and do not feel they can rely on their neighbors for social support, then the entire community suffers.
The current conversation about police defunding and diverting resources to address systemic racism and harms resulting from policing marginalized communities requires understanding the concerns of all who live and work in Seattle, including those who are unhoused. Diverting funding to social, educational and health programs in underserved communities requires utilizing social science methods to ensure that decisions are rooted in data and evidence-based practice. The voices of Seattleites who are low income and unhoused or live in non-traditional homes are critical perspectives on public safety.
It has been an unprecedented year, with COVID and social unrest in response to police violence and systemic racism. The enormous losses and uncertainty our community has experienced have public safety implications that affect everyone in vastly different ways. Perceptions of the police, crime, public safety and quality of everyday life differ across areas of the city, neighborhoods and demographics.
The survey is designed to ensure that every person who lives or works in Seattle has the opportunity to be heard. Considerable time and resources have been invested to outreach across Seattle to ensure that those in traditionally underserved communities have the opportunity to take the survey if they wish – either in print or online. Outreach to community organizations, religious institutions, businesses, formal and informal community leaders and to countless others has occurred. The survey is available to all rather than randomly administered to a select few. Representation is addressed through statistical weighing of responses using U.S. Census Bureau population data, giving more weight to responses from underrepresented groups to ensure that distribution of race and sex across the city is appropriately reflected in the survey sample and the subsequent results.
The survey has the potential to influence how Seattle responds to homelessness, homeless encampments and public safety issues that directly affect those who are unhoused in Seattle. Hearing from those in our community who are unhoused is critical to ensure that decisions made in Seattle are decisions made for all. What constitutes feeling safe and secure in one community may not be the same for another. As one example, in Seattle neighborhoods that have had historical and contemporary conflict with law enforcement, while simultaneously being overpoliced for misdemeanor offenses and under-policed for felony offenses, feelings of safety and security may be tied to lower levels of routine patrols passing through the neighborhood. Meanwhile, in communities with positive relationships with law enforcement, safety and security may increase with increased patrol visibility. The ultimate goal of the Seattle Public Safety Survey is to ensure that the unique needs and concerns of members of all neighborhoods and all communities are met to improve public safety and quality of life for all Seattle communities.
Over the next year, difficult discussions will occur about how the city should allocate its finite resources to address issues related to public safety and security. The Seattle Public Safety Survey provides an opportunity for every person in the community to contribute to the conversation. When it comes to public safety in Seattle, the voices of the unhoused and those who are economically marginalized matter.
We encourage all who live and work in Seattle to represent their community and take the Seattle Public Safety Survey today. For those who are not able to take the survey online, paper surveys are available upon request: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-296-5477.
Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Ph.D., is a criminal justice professor and the director of Crime & Justice Research in the Seattle University Criminal Justice Department. She leads the Seattle Police Department’s Micro-Community Policing Plans and the Seattle Public Safety Survey collaboration with SPD and served as the Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice principal investigator.
William S. Parkin, Ph.D., is a Seattle University criminal justice associate professor. For the last five years, he has worked with SPD on its Micro-Community Policing Plans and the Public Safety Survey. He has also worked with the Research Network to analyze and report misdemeanor arrest and prosecution patterns in Seattle.
Read more in the Nov. 11-17, 2020 issue.