Lawrence City Commission voices concerns about validity of community survey on police

photo by: City of Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission is pictured at its meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.

While some Lawrence city commissioners said the results of a survey gauging the community’s interactions with and perceptions of Lawrence police were important to consider, they also expressed disappointment and frustration with the consultant’s methodology in conducting the survey.

The city hired Allegro Training & Consulting and paid the firm $20,000 to complete the survey. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she is a big believer in looking at statistics, but pointed out that one version of the consultant’s own report states that the survey is not statistically valid because it doesn’t have a representative sample of the population.

“I want to see data that will help us move forward with our policing in Lawrence, but when I see sentences in here that say it is not a statistically valid cross-section of Lawrence, it’s hard for me to take that data seriously,” Larsen said.

There are three drafts of the consultant’s report, which are available on the city’s website. The third version states: “There was a focused outreach to marginalized or minority citizens that may not otherwise complete or have access to a citizen survey. The survey is not a statistically valid cross section of the Lawrence Community but rather was designed to hear from multicultural citizens within the community.” The report also states that Allegro purposefully made the survey long so that only serious respondents would spend time taking it and only take it once.

In response to Larsen’s concern, Allegro CEO Beth Clark said that was her personal statement because it did concern her that only 21 of the survey’s 774 respondents identified themselves as black. However, Clark, who indicates on the Allegro website that she has a psychology degree, said that statisticians working with her team said the survey was statistically valid. Clark noted that 200 of the 774 respondents didn’t indicate their race and 38 said they were mixed-race, and that she thinks they can surmise that some of those people were black.

“The black community, more than any other community, is very leery about the police and in involving themselves in taking a survey or anything that involves the police,” Clark said. “I believe, based on the results, that they are represented in here. They chose not to identify themselves.”

The online survey was voluntary and anonymous, and Mayor Stuart Boley said he also was concerned about the validity because Allegro didn’t attempt to take a statistical sample of the population. He said that self-reported respondents, as opposed to those identified through sampling, could not be extrapolated to the population as a whole.

“I think the data is accurate for the people that actually did the survey,” Boley said. “The question is, can you roll that up to the rest of the population, and I don’t think you can.”

Commissioner Matthew Herbert also said he had concerns about the survey responses. He said that not all of the survey results the consultant provided include disaggregated data that provides a complete demographic breakdown of the responses for each question.

In 2016, the Lawrence Police Department, under the direction of Police Chief Tarik Khatib, hired Allegro to complete the survey, conduct a needs assessment of the department and provide recommendations, according to a contract between the police department and Allegro.

In addition to the survey, Allegro also made various recommendations for the police department regarding multicultural recruiting and hiring, multicultural staff development and multicultural community development. Clark said that she thinks the real reason Khatib hired Allegro was to conduct the needs assessment and establish benchmarks for the department. She said such benchmarks were needed if the department were to follow Allegro’s recommendation to create a multicultural strategic plan.

Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she was disappointed that Allegro did not provide an analysis of the written comments respondents provided or more specific recommendations. Ananda noted there are research methods used to identify trends in qualitative data. She said that the problems identified in the survey are already known, and that the city could have benefited from specific recommendations for specific populations.

“If we are paying this much money for research, I don’t want a list of comments, I want research that we can extrapolate,” Ananda said.

In response to Ananda, Clark noted in particular that only 20 percent of white respondents said they thought the Lawrence police department is biased against them, while 52 percent of black respondents did.

Ananda said she agreed the survey results and work done by Allegro were still valuable. She said there was value in analyzing those pieces, and considering that information.

Commissioner Leslie Soden said that the results should be taken seriously.

“That was the point of why we were doing it,” Soden said. “I think, regardless of what people think of the study, these are (774) people we need to act on.”

The commission unanimously voted to receive the report.

City Commission Meeting 10/02/18


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