Nearly three-fourths of people who have had an encounter with the Oak Park Police Department have been "very satisfied," according to early results from a long-term study of the local force.
Since June, the University of Illinois at Chicago has been monitoring the police department's interactions with the public. Researchers from the school have mailed out surveys asking for reactions after citizens have communicated with local police.
After compiling 327 surveys, 72.5 percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with the way they were treated by the police, while 14.2 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied." The survey also found that 95 percent of people surveyed felt the officer was polite, and 95 percent thought the officer knew what he or she was doing.
Police Chief Rick Tanksley said Monday he felt "really good" about the survey results.
"We come in contact with people, usually under less-than-ideal situations," Tanksley said. "They've been involved in an accident, they've been a victim of a crime, and the traffic stop always causes anxiety with people. But we teach our officers to recognize this so that as long as you're professional in your approach, it can make that experience a little bit better for the citizen."
Police are always interacting with the public, and it's difficult to gauge how well they're doing, Tanksley said. Citizen complaints aren't always a reliable source of information, he added.
Village Manager Tom Barwin, himself a former police officer, thinks the survey sets a good foundation for the police and public to work together.
"I'd put those numbers up against anyone in the country," he said.
The 327 contacts occurred between June 13 and Dec. 7 and included traffic stops, traffic crashes and crime reports. Certain crimes, such as those involving juveniles or sexual assaults, were not included in the study.
Everyone subjected to a traffic stop, victimized in a crime or made the secondary party in a traffic accident was sent a survey by UIC's researchers.
UIC has also conducted research in River Forest, as well as two police districts in Boston. Dennis Rosenbaum, director of the national program and a professor of criminology at UIC, could not be reached for comment Monday.
In the latest results out of River Forest, 68.7 percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with their interaction with the police, while 10.8 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied."
Tanksley plans to discuss the results of the survey with the police force in upcoming meetings in early 2011. Nothing about the data concerned him, but he wants to better understand certain responses. For instance, why did 20.7 percent of those surveyed believe the officer did not "show concern"?
"I think something like this is great, because how can you engage citizens in the crime-fighting initiative if you can't evaluate, or you're afraid to evaluate, what kind of relationship you have with them, and what areas you need to improve upon?" he said. "Police chiefs cannot be afraid of data like this. I think we need to embrace it."