The Fairfax County Police Department is deploying a new tool it says can measure the public’s trust in real time: Zencity Blockwise, a community survey technology.
According to police, Blockwise will better help them understand the public’s concerns, attitudes, and trust when it comes to law enforcement.
“Fairfax County has long been considered a police department that’s innovative, a police department that is an early adopter of technologies, an early adopter of best practices,” Police Chief Kevin Davis said during a Monday briefing. “In short, we try things out because we think that it typically bodes well for our existing relationship with our community. And that bodes well, quite frankly, for the crime fight.”
Davis said the community’s feelings about its police department can’t be gauged by tweets and Facebook posts. Instead, Blockwise “gives us critical data about community sentiment, perceptions, and satisfaction levels.”
According to the chief, post-officer interaction surveys have been overwhelmingly positive, but “what about the way a community feels about its police department? What about the very reality of the fear of crime, the perception of crime?”
Davis said the department wants to better capture community feedback and community sentiment; therefore, it partnered with Zencity for use of Blockwise, which Davis calls a “revolutionary product.”
Zencity Chief Strategy Officer Michael Simon said Blockwise tracks three key indicators: fear of crime, trust in the police department, and “priority.”
“What do we want policing to look like across the very, very diverse communities that sort of make up the fabric of Fairfax County?” Simon said. “What is the demand for policing? And how does it differ community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, etc. And what this will allow us to do is to gather that data in a systematic way, and present metrics that we can track over time on all three of those fronts.”
A countywide ad push for Blockwise started on June 1. Fairfax County residents may see them on Instagram stories, Facebook, and local websites.
According to Simon, residents will see a short survey that takes about two minutes to complete. It’s opt-in, and then they’ll be able to provide feedback. That data then goes to the county. And Simon said it is completely anonymous.
“That data will be collated, analyzed, and looked at inside this agency to allow us to be much more responsive to the demands of the population,” Simon said.
Blockwise is already being used by police departments in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Tempe, Arizona; and Redondo Beach, California, to name a few.
Current languages supported are English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese Urdu, Telugu, and Amharic. According to authorities, it doesn’t collect any personally identifying information. Community responses “give a proportional voice to all demographics (including, by age, sex, race, and education level) based on the makeup of the municipality.”
The police said survey results will be made public quarterly as they become available and will be published on the department’s website.
“Ultimately, we’re going to find a way to share it in real time, every day, on a data portal that we’re building and is up and running right now. But we certainly have some more work to do with it,” Davis said.
The Blockwise announcement comes on the heels of a police reform proposal submitted to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors by the police reform Matrix Working Group.
Recommended actions include expanding a “behavioral health first” approach, fully adopting revisions to the use-of-force general order or explaining why they aren’t being implemented, ensuring the FCPD stays competitive in terms of salary and benefits to attract and retain officers, and more.
That report specifically cited recent police use of force and officer-involved shooting events not just in Fairfax County, but also nationwide, as reasons for the recommendations.
In addition, the proposal calls for “full transparency and a ramped-up effort to communicate broadly the status of these recommendations.”
Featured photo courtesy Fairfax County Police Department/Facebook
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