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Billings Police Department Strengthens Community Trust Through Enhanced Outreach

Billings, MT, USA
Polco

Government Champion

The City of Billings, Montana

Cost

Initial:
18 Thousand USD

Project Status

In Progress/Under Construction since 2021

At a Glance

With police-resident relationships at the forefront of the national dialogue, the City of Billings surveyed residents on their satisfaction with the police. The data informed community-centered policing goals in order to build public trust between the community and its law enforcement officers

Problem Addressed

Public safety and police-resident relationships have been at the forefront of the national dialogue, especially since 2020. In Billings, Montana, these issues complicated the city's community-centered policing goals, which were already hampered by a very lean budget. With the addition of a 70% rise in the violent crime rate, Billing needed to identify ways for the police to better meet the needs of the city's residents. The police force and city government hoped to to get input from their residents on satisfaction with the police's efforts in reducing crime, as well as identify ways to better allocate their resources to address citizen concerns.

“Facing these challenges, we wanted to do the most efficient and effective things with our policing services that we could,” said Kevin Iffland, Assistant City Administrator.

City of Billings, MT used/is using the National Police Services Survey to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Billings leaders needed to understand resident satisfaction with safety and police services. They wanted data (not just anecdotes) from residents to drive the conversation around improving services.

The City worked with National Research Center (NRC) at Polco to conduct The National Police Services Survey (The NPSS). The NPSS provides a comprehensive and accurate picture of resident opinions on police services, and compares local results with Polco’s national database.

“The NPSS provides important data related to how people view police services,” said Iffland.

The results also allow Billings to deploy resources where they are needed most. Residents indicated in the survey that they feel less safe in the commercial area downtown and certain parks at night. Thus, leaders are able to put more resources there.

“These results were not a big surprise to us. But they did confirm we are on the same page as our residents in terms of the actions we were already thinking about taking,” said Iffland. “One thing that stood out to us from the survey is that older people tend to trust the police more than the younger demographic." This indicates a disconnect in communication with younger adult groups.

Because of these results, the department is expanding its use of social media to improve outreach and connection with younger residents. They are also carefully explaining the reasons behind Department decisions.

“We plan to keep monitoring the situation and then come back and do a follow up survey to see if we are making an impact with citizens,” said Iffland.

Because the police department holds such authority, transparency with the public was crucial to building further trust in the community. As a result, Billings has expanded its use of Polco's software to regularly engage residents and continue to build that trust. Billings has conducted multiple community surveys with NRC since 2008, helping to drive high quality in public services, including safety and law enforcement.

According to The NPSS, residents highly regard the Billings Police Department. At least three-quarters of respondents said that the Billings Police Department does an excellent or good job acting in the best interest of the community, acting within the law, and being trustworthy. And most respondents also gave positive ratings for overall quality of services. All ratings for trust and service delivery were higher than the national average.

“Billings’ scores on service delivery and trust are a strong indicator of the quality of police department performance in the community. This trust results from strong resident engagement, among other factors,” said Michelle Kobayashi, Polco’s Senior Vice President of Innovation.

“We believe these positive results come from our efforts to be as transparent as the law allows,” said Iffland. “Additionally it helps to have a long-term police chief who is very active in the community.”

Outcomes

  1. Based on survey results, Billings was able to allocate more resources toward areas of town that residents rated as feeling unsafe at night.
  2. Billings is able to better understand resident opinion on the quality of services, and identify levels of public trust.
  3. Survey results revealed demographic differences in trust and gaps in outreach. Knowing this helps the Police Department to improve messaging for certain groups.
  4. The data allowed the city to implement near-term changes to resident engagement. Future survey deployments are planned to measure the impact of the implemented initiatives.

Who Should Consider?

Law enforcement departments, as well as city and town management, that want to gauge community satisfaction and identify areas for improvement.

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