If you live in Greensboro, you might be asked for your opinion on the city’s police department while scrolling through social media.

Blockwise, a new survey tool being employed by the Greensboro Police Department, was discussed at length during an April 20 Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission community forum meeting.

A citizen review board with a goal to increase transparency between the police department and the public, GCJAC was created in 2018 and is housed under the purview of the recently created Office of Community Safety. GCJAC is comprised of nine council-appointed residents and welcomes members of the public to attend their meetings — typically held at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.

Their next meeting will be held on May 18 from 6:30-8 p.m. at Central Library in the Nussbaum Room, and the next community forum meeting will be held on June 15 at 6 p.m. This meeting’s focus will be on traffic incidents. The location of this event is still being determined according to the city’s website. 

GCJAC also has a subcommittee called the Police Community Review Board. Neither PCRB nor GCJAC can investigate GPD complaints on their own, however PCRB is tasked with reviewing complaints filed against a member of GPD after those complaints have been investigated and ruled upon by the police department’s Professional Standards Division. 

On April 18, the city announced it had hired two staff members for the Office of Community Safety; Mary Houser is the new case coordinator for the Law Enforcement Assistant Diversion team while Arthur Durham takes on the role of violence prevention coordinator.

What is Blockwise and how does it work?

During the April 20 meeting, Police Chief John Thompson explained how Blockwise, the new survey tool, aims to engage the community by asking them about their experiences with the city’s police department. Blockwise is a tool created by ZenCity, a tech company that aims to “promote data-driven decisions in local governance.” GPD was approached by the company, Thompson said.

At-large councilmember and frequent advocate, as well as a past informant for the GPD, Marikay Abuzuaiter lauded Blockwise during her prerecorded video shown during the city’s inaugural State of the City held in March. Greensboro is the first city in North Carolina to implement Blockwise, according to Thompson and Abuzuaiter.

However, it’s not the kind of survey you can search for and find online, Thompson said, adding that people can’t just “go somewhere and sit down and take the survey.” Instead, participants will get the chance if the tool pops up as an advertisement while scrolling through apps like Instagram or Facebook. 

According to the city’s website, Zencity uses existing digital advertising networks to target the survey ads, which are localized to reach each neighborhood, noting that respondents who choose to take the surveys voluntarily provide their ZIP code. 

In an interview with TCB, Office of Community Safety Director Latisha McNeil provided more insight into how the ads are targeted. 

“It depends on what they’re looking for,” she said. “Sometimes they may ask questions that relate to a specific area, and so they will target that area.”

In either English or Spanish, the survey asks residents questions such as how safe they feel walking in their neighborhood while another question asks how safe they feel doing business or visiting areas of Greensboro outside their neighborhood. It also asks respondents to add their own comments regarding their neighborhoods or the city as a whole.

What the first survey results revealed

The first survey results were released at the end of January with the report collecting results from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. It yielded more than 500 responses which were broken down by patrol districts 1 through 4.  Results from January through March will be available soon, Thompson said.

According to the first quarterly report, the overall city-wide “sense of safety” and “level of trust” scores both fell at 69. Scores from the report range from 0-100. District 4 — which includes neighborhoods in North Greensboro — had the highest scores for both trust and safety while District 2 — which includes neighborhoods in East Greensboro — scored the lowest. 

Thompson said that the data is drilled down to “patrol districts and communities and neighborhoods,” noting that looking at the data, districts on the west side and northwest side have a higher safety score than communities in the south and southeast side.

Thompson commented that the data helps the department address “this perception of safety.”

“I gotta realize that there’s a little bit of a disconnect between what I think is a priority for the police department and what the community wants from the police department,” he said.

Thompson compared the city’s scores to other participating cities like Seattle and Chicago whose trust and safety scores fall between 57 and 59. San Diego received a trust score of 68 and a safety score of 70.

“Anybody care to guess what the No. 1 complaint in our survey tool has been to this point?” Thompson asked meeting attendees.

“Traffic,” responded GCJAC board member and former city councilmember Tom Phillips.

“Exactly.” Thompson replied.

The top concerns for Police Districts 1, 3 and 4 were streets and traffic. Twenty-nine percent of respondents from Police District 2 listed violence as their top concern, closely followed by streets and traffic at 26 percent.

Thompson said that overwhelmingly, the majority of complaints included traffic, speeding, red-light violations and careless and reckless driving as concerns.

These results confused Thompson at first.

“You don’t see articles written about stop sign violations or speeding,” Thompson said, “but you see the homicides.

“I guarantee you… as I head home, that there’s gonna be a car, careless and reckless, speeding,” he continued. “And that individual could impact 500 people through the course of a day. So now you amplify that across the community, and traffic issues impact more people than a violent crime that they might not be affiliated with…. That makes sense to me.”

Thompson noted that Blockwise will offer an opportunity for continual feedback from the community, and since it’s continual, “it can change based on what’s going on in Greensboro.” 

GPD scores low in ‘transparency’ 

Thompson told meeting attendees that two versions of the survey are currently being conducted — the first is the same version that they started with, while the second encompasses those original questions but asks five additional questions. The second survey is meant to measure ‘sense of safety’ and ‘level of trust,’ and will include how citizens feel during their interactions with GPD, as well as determine the amount of voice citizens feel they possess during those interactions. This new survey will also include a transparency score — one of the scores that alarmed Thompson.

The chief said he’d checked the scores that evening before coming to the meeting and that the most recent scores show that the department scored an 18 in transparency. Thompson said that this score “screams that there’s something going on between the police department and the community where they don’t feel…that we are transparent.”

“As it relates to that specific category, I think the GCJAC is a phenomenal tool for us… going forward as it relates to transparency,” Thompson said.

Captain of GPD’s Professional Standards Division Stephanie Mardis commented during the meeting that the division would like to invite GCJAC to their headquarters in order to walk them through the process of how they receive and investigate complaints. Mardis also mentioned conducting a mock administrative hearing to show GCJAC the process in order to “bring some context as to what happens behind closed doors.”

At the start of the meeting, board member DJ O’Brien said that the commission has asked “some tough questions” in the past, and that they’ll continue to ask those types of questions.

“That’s our job,” O’Brien said, adding, “And if for some reason we’re not satisfied with the answers, then that’ll be made public.”

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