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Survey: More than eight of ten people satisfied with treatment by Chicago cops

Updated: February 11, 2013 7:33AM

When some Chicagoans think of the police department, disgraced cops like Anthony Abbate or Jon Burge might come to mind.

Or last year’s rising gun violence.

But a University of Illinois at Chicago survey of more than 4,000 people showed a mostly positive public opinion of the men and women in blue.

More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they were somewhat satisfied — or very satisfied — about their recent encounters with officers.

The level of satisfaction was slightly higher among whites than blacks and Latinos — and far lower among people under 30 years old.

And those involved in traffic stops didn’t feel as warm and fuzzy about the police as those involved in car crashes or those who reported a crime.

“But the average person — what we call the ‘silent majority’ — is pleased with the performance of the police department,” said Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which conducted the study.

“Too often, individual incidents and extreme cases get more attention in the media,” he said.

In November 2011, police Supt. Garry McCarthy asked the university to measure the quality of police encounters with the public. Nine police districts — a cross-section of the city — were involved in the survey, Rosenbaum said.

Anyone who reported a crime or was in an accident or a traffic stop received a letter from McCarthy asking them to participate in a satisfaction survey over the phone or online.

The department didn’t know who participated in the study and officers’ identities were protected, Rosenbaum said. Those surveyed were told it wasn’t part of the department’s “complaint process,” he added.

Between 5 and 10 percent of those who received letters took part in the survey.

The survey rated citizens’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction with officers on a four-point scale. They were asked: “Taking the whole experience into account, how satisfied are you with the way you were treated by the officer in this case?”

About 85 percent whites said they were somewhat or very satisfied, followed by 78.3 percent of blacks and 78.2 percent of Latinos.

About 88 percent of those over age 51 said they were somewhat or very satisfied, followed by 76 percent between 30 and 50, and 68 percent of those under 30.

And about 85 percent of those involved in a crash said they were somewhat or very satisfied, followed by 83 percent of those who reported crimes and only 61 percent of those in a traffic stop.

Drivers’ satisfaction with how they were treated declined dramatically when a ticket was issued — from 83 percent to 48 percent. Still, an officer’s “car-side manners” made a difference in a driver’s view of the officer, Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum said the survey is being used in police training, and he hopes it will also be used as a tool to evaluate the performance of police districts — but not individual officers.

“McCarthy appreciates the idea that this is really connected in the end to public safety,” Rosenbaum said. “If you don’t have the trust and confidence of the public, you can’t really build a partnership to solve crime.”

Rosenbaum said Chicago is the biggest city in which the University of Illinois at Chicago surveyed the public’s opinions toward cops. New York Police Department officials recently expressed interest in such a survey, he said.

Oak Park and River Forest are among smaller towns where such surveys have been conducted.

Now that nine Chicago Police districts have been evaluated, all of Chicago’s 22 districts will be included in a 2013 survey, Rosenbaum said. He would not provide a breakdown for each of the nine districts.

Improving public perceptions of the police can go a long way toward solving crime, Rosenbaum said.

Murders in Chicago topped 500 last year — the first time since 2008. Last year’s tally is a 16 percent rise over 2011.

Meanwhile, only 25 percent of the murders in 2012 were solved last year — including about 9 percent solved “exceptionally,” meaning police identified a suspect but closed the case without charges because they couldn’t get a witness to testify, couldn’t get prosecutors to file charges or the suspect is dead.

Union officials say a shortage of detectives — as well as a lack of public cooperation — has contributed to the low clearance rate, the lowest in two decades.

“When the police are respectful, people are more likely to cooperate and report crime,” Rosenbaum said. “This will put a dent in the no-snitch culture.”

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