During the 2014 town census, we asked residents to fill out a paper survey about our department and to return it in the same envelope. (Although a few people questioned how this was “anonymous”, I assure you that no police department personnel were involved in separating the surveys from the census paperwork.) It took us a while to get all of the data entered into the computer, but we are finally done. And, generally speaking, the results show that you think we are doing a good job!
There were more than twenty questions in the survey, and here are the basic findings:
The surveys were filled out by 59% females, and over 75% of the respondents were 45 years old or older. Just under half of the respondents had an interaction with the police department within the last year prior to filling out the survey.
A large majority of respondents were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Pepperell Police officers’ professionalism, visibility, competency, courtesy and appearance.
A majority of respondents feel safe in their homes, in their neighborhoods and on Main Street. Unfortunately, the same was not true for the rail trail. Only 47% of people reported feeling “safe” or “very safe” on the rail trail.
About 75% of respondents felt that the police presence was adequate in their neighborhood and 80% feel that traffic enforcement in town is also adequate.
When asked how or if the police department has changed over the last three years, half of the respondents answered “Don’t know” with another 49% answering either “Same”, “Improved”, or “Much Improved”.
In an open answer question asking what people like best about the police department, the responses had these most frequent themes: “Officers are Friendly/Courteous/Polite”, “Professionalism”, “Responsive” and “Visibility/Accessibility”.
In the only other open answer question, the following themes were most frequent for how to improve the police department: “Funding for officers/equipment”, “More interaction with the public”, “New Public Safety Complex”, “Officer/Programs in Schools”, and “Bring back bike patrol on rail trail”.
When asked to pick from a list of decreased police programs that should be increased, respondents felt “School Safety” and “Drug Investigations” were most important to increase.
When asked to pick from a list of eliminated police programs to bring back, respondents chose “Bike Patrol” and “DARE/Officer in Schools”.
When asked if citizens utilized our social media sites (Facebook, Twitter and Nixle), a surprising 64% of respondents stated that they did not even know we were on social media!
Finally, we asked residents to tell us if they would support a tax override for a new public safety complex or a Community Services Officer. Only 23% of respondents stated that they would “Definitely” or “Probably” support an override for a new building and 37% felt the same way about an override for a Community Services Officer. About 28-29% of respondents said “Maybe” to both questions.
So, what does all of this mean? My humble opinion is that the respondents of this survey are generally pleased with their police department, and they desire the same things I do for the Pepperell Police Department. I have made requests to the town over the last few years to increase our detective division to help with drug investigations as well as for a Community Services Officer to teach our youth in our schools and interact with the public in general more often. Unfortunately, these requests were not fulfilled due to the town’s continued financial issues. We don’t have the necessary manpower to dedicate officers to these or other specialized tasks such as patrolling the rail trail on bicycles because we need the officers we have in the cruisers answering calls for service.
Last night’s combined Selectmen/Finance Committee meeting did not seem to promise any financial support. It appears that we are heading into fiscal year 2016 with no chance of increasing our personnel, which remains four officers and a part-time administrative clerk below full staff. The members of this department, however, are still working hard to protect and serve the citizens and visitors of Pepperell. We are currently field training two reserve officers to help supplement our full time sworn personnel. We hope to train more in the future.
I want to thank every member of this department for their continued professionalism and dedication while we remain understaffed. Judging from the results of this survey, the public appreciates the effort.