-By Julia Steege-Reimann-
Like many communities nationwide, public safety and police-resident relationships were at the forefront of the dialogue in Billings, Montana in 2020. At the same time, Billings’ Police Department also struggled with a very lean budget. With the addition of a 70% rise in the violent crime rate, Billings wanted to identify ways for the police to better meet the needs of the city's residents.
“Facing these challenges, we wanted to do the most efficient and effective things with our policing services that we could,” said Kevin Iffland, Assistant City Administrator.
To better understand how to meet resident needs, The City of Billings decided to conduct The National Law Enforcement Survey (The NLES). The NLES provides a comprehensive and accurate picture of resident opinions on law enforcement, and compares local results with Polco’s national database.
“The NLES provides important data related to how people view police services,” said Iffland.
The NLES allows Billings to deploy resources and time where they are needed most. Residents indicated in the survey that they feel less safe in the commercial area downtown and certain parks at night. Thus, leaders are putting more resources there.
“These results were not a big surprise to us. But they did confirm we are on the same page as our residents in terms of the actions we were already thinking about taking,” said Iffland.
“One thing that stood out to us from the survey is that older people tend to trust the police more than the younger demographic,” said Iffland. This indicates a disconnect in communication with younger adult groups.
Because of these results, the department is expanding its use of social media to improve outreach with younger residents. They are also carefully explaining the reasons behind Department decisions.
“We plan to keep monitoring the situation and then come back and do a follow up survey to see if we are making an impact with citizens,” said Iffland.
Billings has conducted multiple community surveys with Polco/NRC since 2008, helping to drive increasingly higher quality public services.
According to The NLES, residents highly regard the Billings Police Department. At least three-quarters of respondents said that the Billings Police Department does an excellent or good job acting in the best interest of the community, acting within the law, and being trustworthy. And most respondents also gave positive ratings for overall quality of services. All ratings for trust and service delivery were higher than the national average.
“Billings’ scores on service delivery and trust are a strong indicator of the quality of police department performance in the community. This trust results from strong resident engagement, among other factors,” said Michelle Kobayashi, Polco’s Senior Vice President of Innovation.
“We believe these positive results come from our efforts to be as transparent as the law allows,” said Iffland. “Additionally it helps to have a long-term police chief who is very active in the community.”
More information on The NLES can be found here.