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NYPD looks at smartphone polling that measures public opinion of police

The NYPD is looking closely at what it is getting for the $1.4 million spent in fiscal year 2018.

The NYPD is taking a look at how

The NYPD is taking a look at how effective its program on smartphone polling about cop sentiment is. Photo Credit: Theodore Parisienne

It's crunchtime for the NYPD’s “sentiment meter” project, the highly touted effort to use smartphone polling to measure public opinion about the police. 

The program, which was pushed by former Commissioner Bill Bratton before he left in September 2016,  has developed into what police and city officials said is an ambitious effort to contact members of the public  to gauge how they feel about the job the NYPD is doing.

Now, two years into the project the NYPD is looking closely at what it is getting for the $1.4 million spent in fiscal year 2018, said Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who believes the system — criticized by some officials as not useful for policing — is still a work in progress.

“We don’t have a specific answer whether it works or not,”  Monahan in an interview. “There [are] still a lot of questions. The ultimate goal is unbelievable though.”

Monahan said that if the sentiment meter program works as intended, it has the potential for transforming not only policing but other areas of government in making officials more responsive to public opinion.

The polling involves sending hundreds of thousands of messages to smartphones asking if people feel safe in their neighborhoods and how they feel about cops, explained Michael Simon, co-founder of Elucd, the New York-based technology company involved in doing the polling. 

Simon said the response rate is remarkably high, running around 25 percent, and draws answers from cellphone users in various patrol boroughs, precincts and sectors.  He noted that about a half dozen precinct commanders use it to help deploy cops.

For Simon, the question now being asked in NYPD headquarters is not whether the polling is accurate but what department brass do with the information in deciding how to use resources.  Since there isn’t decades of experience using the polling for policing decisions, Simon believes it will take time to sort out what to do with the information.

“The first year was just data gathering, so they had a baseline,” explained Monahan. “The second year, now we have to sit back and ask why [certain results] and are we asking the right questions?”

Since the beginning of the year, Commissioner James O’Neill, when asked when results of the polling would be revealed, put off giving specifics.  O’Neill has said that more analysis had to be done.  Earlier this month he projected that result might be released in October.

Some critics, both inside and outside the NYPD who didn’t want to be identified, believe the polling by smartphone has the same potential for distortion as traditional polling methods and isn’t useful for policing.

Monahan said that to draw out respondents, they have been encouraged in the last two months to  give more lengthy answers.

In a telephone interview, Bratton said he hasn’t been involved in the project, which his old colleague John Linder pushed, since he left in 2016. But he recalled that the idea stemmed from what he said was a disconnect between historic crime reductions and the negative public feelings about police because of controversies like Stop and Frisk methods. 

“It is nothing different from what politicians do with polling,” said Bratton of the police polling.

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