Study conducted by Chad Loes, professor of criminal justice, shows that Cedar Rapids community views CRPD relatively favorably.

Chad Loes, professor of criminal justice

Mount Mercy Professor of Criminal Justice, Chad Loes, conducted a study to gauge the Cedar Rapids community's attitudes towards the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

MMU: Tell us about your background in research.

CL: Most of my research focuses on how college affects students. I empirically investigate factors associated with the growth college student outcomes theoretically associated with a liberal arts education. I devote a smaller segment of my attention to criminal justice research. Within that strand of work, I generally focus on diversity issues and citizen attitudes towards the criminal justice system. The current study—Attitudes of Citizens in the City of Cedar Rapids Toward their Police—is relatively similar to an investigation I conducted in Illinois that examined citizens’ perceptions of police effectiveness. I also conducted another study in Iowa that explored the degree to which Iowa police departments offer multicultural training to their officers.

MMU: What were your thoughts when the Cedar Rapids Police Department approached you with the idea for this study?

CL: This project emerged as a result of a casual conversation with Doug Doyle (a sergeant with the Cedar Rapids Police Department/Mount Mercy graduate). Doyle discussed his work in leading the Police Community Action Team within the CRPD. During this conversation, we discussed how the CRPD can most effectively serve its citizens. We both agreed that before an agency can improve in any way, those leading the organization must first understand “where they are.” We spoke of the importance of gauging how citizens feel toward those who serve them and how the City of Cedar Rapids had not (until this point) considered undertaking a systematic investigation to measure citizen attitudes toward the police.

After our conversation, Jeff Hembera (Captain, Patrol Division/Mount Mercy graduate student) contacted me in October of 2018 to ask whether I would be willing to help the CRPD in assessing citizen attitudes toward their agency. Although I knew this project would be a substantial undertaking, I felt that this commitment would be worthwhile after my discussion with Doyle left me with a strong sense that the CRPD is truly committed to further strengthening their relationship with the citizens of Cedar Rapids.

MMU: How did you go about conducting the study? What went into each of the research, drafting, execution, data collection, and interpretation phases?

CL: The first step in this project involved reviewing the literature on this heavily-studied topic in the field of criminal justice. Completing this step allowed me to get a clearer picture of the current research on citizen attitudes toward the police. Based on the literature I examined, I created a survey to gauge citizens’ perceptions of police effectiveness in Cedar Rapids. After working with Hembera on developing the survey, I met with the CRPD command staff in February of this year to discuss my intentions regarding the study. After obtaining approval from Mount Mercy and the CRPD, Hembera and I emailed the survey to all voters in Cedar Rapids who provided an email address when they registered to vote. After two weeks of data collection, I analyzed the data and prepared a detailed report for the CRPD command staff. After meeting with the command staff in May to discuss the results, I worked with Greg Buelow (Public Safety Communications Coordinator/Mount Mercy graduate) and Wayne Jerman (Cedar Rapids Chief of Police) to discuss the findings of the study with local media representatives.

MMU: Did you encounter issues in any of the phases mentioned above? How did you overcome those obstacles?

CL: The primary issue with this study relates to the sampling procedure/generalizability of the findings. Ideally, to assess citizens’ attitudes toward the police, I would contact every citizen in the city of Cedar Rapids; however, this is impractical on many levels. Another approach is to send the survey via US mail to all citizens who registered to vote (or to a random sample of this subset of the population). This approach would be quite costly and time-consuming, however. As a result of this issue, I knew the generalizability of the findings would be limited. These points notwithstanding, it is important to note that the respondents in our sample were very similar to the population in terms of race and sex. They were, however, more educated and older. Given that race emerged as an especially salient predictor of citizen attitudes toward the CRPD, the finding that the sample is similar to the population in terms of race gives me greater confidence in the representativeness of the sample on this key measure.    

MMU: What were the results, and what did you learn? Was anything surprising to CRPD?

CL: Overall, it appears that citizens in the city of Cedar Rapids hold relatively favorable views of their police. Specifically, 73.4 percent of respondents report they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the CRPD. As a point of comparison, and using a somewhat different outcome measure (on a nationally representative sample of Americans) in 2017, researchers from the Gallup Poll found that 57 percent of Americans report they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. Given that citizen attitudes are influenced by a number of factors (e.g., sex, income, education), I conducted some analyses to account for those variables.

The results of those analyses suggest that older respondents, and those who had contact with members of CRPD have more positive attitudes toward the police relative to their respective counterparts. In contrast, respondents who were crime victims and those who are minorities have less positive attitudes toward the police relative to their respective counterparts. Lastly, I also found that—on one hand—minorities who had contact with the CRPD report less positive attitudes toward the CRPD. On the other hand, white residents who had contact with the CRPD report more positive attitudes toward the CRPD. (The racial differences in attitudes toward the police are consistent with research and public polling on this topic.)

MMU: In what ways could CRPD use these results? As the lead on the project, what would you suggest to CRPD?

CL: Given the limitations of the sampling procedure/generalizability described earlier, it is important that we recognize these results are not necessarily generalizable to the entire population of Cedar Rapids. That said, sample respondents are similar in terms of race and sex compared to the overall Cedar Rapids population. Further, this study is the first attempt to systematically ascertain how residents feel about the CRPD. As such, I encouraged the CRPD leadership to consider obtaining a grant to survey a more representative sample of the city. The CRPD is open to this idea and may consider another study in the future to test the robustness of these findings.

It is important to note that most cities in the U.S. do not empirically examine the attitudes of their citizens toward their police. The willingness of the CRPD to systematically evaluate citizen attitudes toward them is notable, and it provides clear evidence that the agency is genuinely concerned with the welfare of the citizens in Cedar Rapids and that they are committed to improving the services they provide.     

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