Community input should be at the heart of policy decision making. Following a police-involved shooting in June, we asked residents in every neighborhood of South Bend what they thought could be done to improve the relationships between police and residents. We also wanted to better understand how safe residents feel in their communities and how much they trust their local police.

Our findings showed measurable racial differences and a strong desire to improve police-community relations.

Some key quantitative takeaways included:

  • Trust in police scores in South Bend diverged significantly by race with a 20-point gap between black and white residents, the largest we’ve seen in any city Elucd has measured.
  • Overall safety scores, regardless of the race of the respondent, were lower for South Bend than comparable American cities.
  • There is a significant gap between the trust scores of younger and older residents, with older residents trusting police the most.

In addition to questions assessing the level of trust in police and perception of safety, respondents were asked, “What could city leaders do to improve public safety in South Bend?”

Here are some of our findings:

  • Most survey respondents had strong and specific opinions that addressing police-community relations should be a top priority. It was the top-ranked issue mentioned in all but one zip code throughout South Bend.
  • 32% of comments suggested addressing the dynamic between the police and the community, including: recruiting and hiring more women and minority police officers; providing better training and supervision; and increasing transparency and accountability around policies.
  • 31% of comments opined on the deployment or focus of police resources, including: increasing foot patrols; changing the way officers are assigned to beats, and ensuring officers are more familiar with and embedded in communities and are trained to deal with racial biases.

Other specific comments that stood out from our surveys, included:

  • "All patrolmen should get to know and establish relationships with all residents within the neighborhoods they patrol. Try to establish activities for the children within these neighborhoods, ex; softball, volleyball and Tball teams. Teach older teens how to referee and or problem-solving skills." (African-American Female, 55-64)
  • "Bring back the old beat system, where cops knew the people in their area and the people knew their cop." (White Male, 65+)
  • "Unfortunately, only see police when called...need to see them back in the neighborhoods on foot or bike. Get to know the people!! Most people are intimidated with the car, the weather is nice now...get out and chat!" (White Female, 25-34)
  • "Make it harder for people to obtain guns, host events where police can get to know residents from all walks of life, encourage relationship-building between residents and law enforcement/ city officials, host more town hall meetings, etc." (Hispanic/Latino Female, 25-34)

The Missing Link

These tangible comments from all corners of the community are often the missing link city leaders desperately need but have struggled to collect. In general, elected officials, sworn police officers, and city staff want and need to hear from the residents they serve. Dated methods, like door to door surveys and landline phone calls, simply don’t reach all the residents that make up a community.

A series of upcoming community meetings planned by the South Bend Board of Public Safety represents a promising step toward renewed open dialogue with residents. Too often, however, only a small handful of voices are represented at meetings like this, which can fall short of gathering an accurate picture. Residents also get frustrated by “listening sessions” that can make apparent just how little city leaders know about their daily concerns. Coming to these meetings equipped with real insights and data can change the dynamic for both city leaders and residents.

With this information in hand, South Bend city officials are well-positioned to engage with residents during the upcoming community sessions taking place throughout August and September.

For our part, we’ll continue to keep an eye on developments in South Bend to understand what impact these proactive actions are having on rebuilding trust and improving the police-community relationship.

Background and Method

This Elucd survey was comprised of more than 850 responses from a demographically balanced sample of South Bend residents. The survey was delivered to respondents via Elucd’s Blockwise, an innovative technology that engages city residents through digital advertisements on the social media platforms, apps and websites they use and visit every day. Leveraging census data, Elucd ensures its results reflect an accurate and relevant sample of a city’s demographics—including race, age, sex, income level, and educational attainment—to make sure all voices in a city are heard.