News Room

By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector
March 3, 2012

A large majority of Greenville residents have little or no fear of crime in their neighborhoods, and even more are very satisfied with the service provided by their police department, according to a survey conducted at city expense by East Carolina University.

The Community Fear of Crime Study was conducted via phone questionnaire of 386 responding residents from all four Greenville policing districts between September and November by the ECU Criminal Justice Department. It will be presented Thursday to the City Council by department chairman William Bloss.

The data showed that, citywide, approximately 92 percent of respondents expressed little or no fear of crime in their respective neighborhoods.

Study participants ranked their greatest crime fears as speeding and reckless driving (37.8 percent), burglary (28.4 percent) and loud parties (21.2) percent.

Visiting a neighborhood park or playground registered the highest fear level among a list of 13 types of activities, with 61.5 percent of people saying they were afraid or very afraid. Next on the fear list, 35.6 percent said they were afraid or very afraid of shopping or dining in the downtown area at night. In comparison with other areas of the city, four of the top five fears registered by residents were connected to downtown activities, but, contrary to some expectations, none amounted to a high fear of crime in that area, the study indicated.

“Based on conversations we had beforehand with city leaders and task force members, there was a perception that it would be an area of great concern,” Bloss said.

The police department also asked the researchers to study residents’ level of satisfaction with police service and performance.

Measures of officers’ professionalism and trustworthiness drew an overall 84-93 percent satisfaction rate. More than 62 percent believed the police are effective at preventing crime, 72.5 percent believed they effectively investigate crime and nearly 69 percent said they solve crimes quickly, the authors reported.

Local television and newspaper media were the most relied upon sources of information (more than 75 percent) used to formulate opinions about the police, the researchers said.

The crime study was commissioned in April 2011 on a recommendation from the Special Task Force on Public Safety. The researchers were asked to explore facets of the fear of crime perception in the city’s four policing districts and citywide, Bloss said in a phone interview on Friday.

They studied people’s perceptions of the crime risk in their neighborhoods and in the downtown area, and asked people what information sources contributed to their crime risk perceptions, Bloss said.

Data also was collected about the people who participated in the study. About 70 percent were women and about 76 percent owned a home, according to the report demographics. About 70 percent of those interviewed were white. College graduates made up about 48 percent of the demographic and 56 percent either were unemployed or retired.

Bloss said the number and diversity of the responding study subjects (6,000 were contacted and 386 responded) were “scientifically valid and sufficient” to provide reliable data for the department’s report. He said having well-trained expert criminologists conducting the study assured its objectivity.

“We have a number of years of experience studying crime from different points of view,” Bloss said. “While you never know what the findings will be until you collect and analyze the data, some of the findings and measurements were consistent with what the body of research has shown in other places.”

The chairman said some outcomes were not a surprise to the research team, but found the high level of regard for the police department services and performance particularly remarkable.

“That’s a very high percentage,” Bloss said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t things in the report the police department can learn from regarding citizens’ concerns. There are areas in the report where the people felt the police can do better, but I’m confident the police leadership will recognize that and work to do better.”

Bloss avoided political speculation, but acknowledged that, combined with recent statistics that show an overall drop in serious crime levels, his department’s report about crime perceptions confirms the success of former police chief William Anderson’s efforts at community policing and strengthening the relationship between police and the people of the community they serve.

“At the end of the day, it’s more about perception than reality,” Bloss said. “If people feel unsafe even when the data show they’re not, they’re unsafe. A leader who is insensitive to public perceptions about risk of crime just doesn’t get it. You have to be responsive to the things that affect quality of life and a sense of well-being.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz(at)reflector.com or 252-329-9571.

Article courtesy of The Daily Reflector

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