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Some Louisville Residents Have a Skewed Perception of Neighborhood Crime, LMPD Survey Says

Louisville residents' perceptions of neighborhood crime are not always a reflection of reality, according to a survey commissioned by Louisville Metro Police to gauge Louisvillians' attitudes about crime, safety and the department.Overall, 89 percent of survey respondents said they were "somewhat" or "very" satisfied with Louisville Metro Police.Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said the 2013 Citizens Attitude Survey is a tool police are using to get an idea how the agency's work is being received in the community. Perceptions, fears and attitudes are not something easily determined through data collection and arrest reports, he said.“I am very interested in the community’s perspectives about the services they are receiving,” Conrad told WFPL on Tuesday.  "It is important to go to our citizens—our customers—and ask them how we're doing."The survey results were released in April.Misperceptions In Division 8, which covers eastern Jefferson County, 13 percent of respondents—the smallest percentage of any division—said they believed crime in their neighborhood had increased in the past year. But Division 8 had the second-highest crime rate increase among the eight LMPD patrol divisions, according to the report. The highest percentage of respondents who said they believe crime had increased during the past year were inDivision 3,which covers southwestern Jefferson County. But Division 3 had the second largest crime rate decrease in 2013, according to the report.“I think the media plays a big impact on people’s perceptions,” Conrad said. “I know that’s the business, I get that, and it’s not necessarily an indictment, I think it just has an impact."Only Division 1, which includes downtown and the Portland and Russell neighborhoods, had a crime rate increase at a greater rate than Division 8.  Nearly 36 percent of Division 1 respondents, the most of all divisions, said they believe they are unsafe or very unsafe being alone outside at night in their neighborhood.The Division 8 respondents had the least amount of fear of being alone outside at night in their neighborhood, according to the report. 
A majority (70 percent) of respondents said they feel safe going outside of their home at night—but that means that nearly 30 percent of respondents don’t on at least some occasions.
And if the survey is reflective of the entire Louisville Metro population, as it was designed to be, that means about 182,000 residents have felt unsafe outside of their home at night.“In all honesty, there is room for improvement,” Conrad said.  “I don’t know that you will ever get to the point that everyone feels safe.”  

Some Louisvillians Won't Call PoliceThe report also said that people's past experiences with police sometimes led to a reluctance to call for law enforcement at later dates.  About 16 percent of respondents said the “police did not help previously” when they were called for assistance.“That’s really an area for improvement,” Conrad said.  But he added there are “limitations” to what police can do.Community activist Eddie Woods said delayed responses lead residents to lose faith and trust in law enforcement.  He also said police often exhibit a lack of emotional flexibility, which can make establishing a connection with residents difficult.“Individuals, depending on how the emotional string has strung, are depending on some flexibility,” he said.

Conrad said it is “impossible to make everybody happy."“And it’s impossible to fix every problem, but we are committed to do what we can."About half of the survey respondents were "very satisfied" with police, and 38.7 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied," according to the report. 

About 70 percent of respondents said they had no contact with police during the previous year.  Of that group, 6 percent said they were dissatisfied with Louisville Metro Police.But respondents who did have contact with police were most likely to be dissatisfied with Louisville Metro Police.  More than 20 percent of the 707 respondents who said they'd interacted with police during the previous year were were dissatisfied with LMPD, according to the report. The reasons given for dissatisfaction included long waits for a police response or officers not making an immediate arrest, according to the report.

But Conrad said it doesn't always make sense for officers to “go blue lights and sirens across the neighborhood.”For instance, Conrad said, minor thefts or situations that have already resolved themselves may not necessitate an immediate response.And boosted community support can also quell the need for police interaction in every situation, he said.  Conrad endorses the creation of Neighborhood Watch programs. He credited such programs with the “strength in numbers” needed to combat crime at the most local level.Woods said he didn't think surveys are the best way to get an understanding of how police impact the community. He encouraged police to spend some "porch time" with residents."Engage in activities," he said.  "Shoot some ball with some kids, carry on a conversation."You can read the entire report here.The Citizens Attitude Survey will continue into the future, Conrad said.  He said the data has already been collected for a new report next year.Just more than $110,000 was budgeted this fiscal year for the Citizens Attitude Survey and a study looking into whether Louisville Metro Police officers racially profiles when making traffic stops.Conrad said the results of the racial profiling study will be released soon.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.