Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf released preliminary results of a month-long New Orleans Police Department job satisfaction survey, and the majority of its 463 respondents appeared to indicate dissatisfaction with current policies, skepticism of new policies and distrust of departmental leaders. Among the more dramatic results: 97 percent of respondents said the department was understaffed. Only two percent said there was sufficient manpower. (The remaining one percent was neutral.)
"You see a pattern of distrust, dissatisfaction," in the results, said Capt. Michael Glasser at a press conference today. Glasser is president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), which commissioned the survey.
Update: Download the full (preliminary) report: PANO_results_071012_AP.pdf
“However you can get information about your department is always important," NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said at a press conference today. “But make no mistake about it. Everybody in the city of New Orleans knows that we’re up against a Herculean task. To reform a police department that had clearly gone off the path is clearly a lot of work, but we’re making a lot of headway.”
NOPD and officials from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, meanwhile, have questioned the methodology employed. Particularly problematic, according to two researchers NOPD contacted, was a letter PANO released as an introduction to the survey, which was highly critical of the department.
"Now ... we are in the wake of increasing street violence, and faced with more 'plans', more 'missions', but fewer and fewer officers due to an appalling attrition rate and astonishingly low morale," that letter read in part.
"If a researcher wants to produce valid and reliable survey results, it is critically important that the invitation and introduction to the survey be written in a 'neutral' manner that does not imply the answers or overall results that the researcher hopes to produce," wrote Dr. Lorie Fridell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida, in a statement released by NOPD today. "I would not consider the results from a survey with this introduction as valid."
(Watch a video of Serpas' response to the survey after the jump)
Scharf, who said he and Glasser met with Serpas and Landrieu this morning, agreed that the survey was less than perfect. But, he argued, any such study is going to be problemativ. Past surveys, such as the one commissioned by the city in 2010, may have been skewed in the opposite direction, since police officers might tend to answer more positively when their bosses are asking the questions, Scharf said.
Besides, Scharf said, no one has yet said that the survey itself was biased.
"Nobody's really argued that there's a response bias in the questions," he said. And, he added, some of the results are too dramatic to disregard because of the letter. "You're still stuck with only two percent who said that there were enough officers."
A sampling of the results:
Of the 463 respondents, 59 percent (271) are PANO members. 83 percent (383) are male. 58 percent (269) are white, 37 percent (169) are black and 5 percent (25) marked "other."
The two largest groups of respondents are relatively new to the department (23 percent at 0-5 years) or 20-year-plus veterans (29 percent). 67 percent (306) have a rank of officer, 17 percent (76) sergeant, 9 percent (43) lieutenant and 3 percent (14) above lieutenant. Only 21 respondents (5 percent) are civilian NOPD employees.
"The overall department has sufficient manpower." Results: 80 percent marked "extremely disagree." 17 percent marked "disagree." One percent apiece marked "extremely agree," "agree" or "neither agree nor disagree."
"If I could change police departments without losing seniority and/or pension/salary benefits, I would change departments." Results: 53 percent marked "extremely agree." 27 percent marked "agree." 8 percent neither agreed nor disagreed. 6 percent marked "disagree." And 6 percent marked "extremely disagree."
The problem, if there is one, seems to be with NOPD's top leadership rather than management at the district level. Seventy-three percent of officers surveyed said their immediate supervisors were fair in dealing with officers. Only five percent, however said the same of the department's executive management.
Most officers surveyed also reported skepticism or opposition to new policies enacted by Serpas. 88 percent disagreed (extremely or otherwise) with the statement, "The policies implemented under the current Superintendent (such as Redistricting, Mission 1, Mission 2, DDACT [the software-guided, data-based deployment plan], one officer patrols, etc.) have made the NOPD a more effective crime prevention and public safety organization."
As to the criticism of his policies, Serpas said they're working, and the proof, he went on, is in a nearly 3 percent drop in serious crime in 2012 from 2011. He called new policies "tried and true crime fighting techniques that have worked in cities across the country.”
“They have increased their arrest activity by more than 15 percent, better arrests and smarter arrests," Serpas said. “The district attorney has reported that he’s seeing better product coming from the police department.”
Scharf said that officers may not be reacting to the policies themselves as much as how they're implemented: top-down, with little introduction or input from officers.
"Is this a problem with DDACT or how it was introduced?" Scharf said. "There is a sense that it never gets down to the police on the street."
Whatever objections NOPD and the administration have, Scharf said, these results and a full analysis his office plans to present next month will give them a better understanding of what officers are thinking.
"We're hoping they'll take this and say, here's the core truths," he said. "We think this is a very important study."