But as we know now, the city did run the survey again, quietly, in September/October 2006. And the results reveal an interesting mix of opinions.
The reputation of police officers had improved in some significant and important ways. For instance, residents judged officers much higher than in the past for being “fair and respectful,” and for having the skills to deal with confrontational situations — particularly impressive, given the increasing danger police were facing on bullet-ridden streets. They were also less likely to have had a bad experience with a Boston police officer, or to believe that use of excessive force is a significant problem. These positive responses are a credit to Boston’s front-line cops, as well as their trainers and supervisors.
At the same time, confidence in the department’s overall ability to prevent crime and to solve crimes were both at their lowest point — by a wide margin — in the 10-year history of this research.
About a quarter of residents in 2006 said they had little or no confidence in the BPD’s ability to prevent crime — up from 12 percent in 2001, and equal to the number who had a “great deal” of confidence. Five years earlier, those with a “great deal” of confidence (35 percent) had outnumbered those with “little” or “none” by a three-to-one margin.
As for confidence in the BPD’s ability to solve crimes, “great deal” fell from 29 to 22 percent from 2001 to 2006, while “little” or “none” rose from 14 to 25 percent.
Those holding a favorable attitude toward the department dropped from 76 percent in 2001, to 71 percent in 2003, to 67 percent in 2006; unfavorability rose from 10 to 13 to 18 percent — an 80 percent increase in unfavorable responses in five years.
Same old story?
Fear of crime in 2006 was understandably also way up, given the recent spate of homicides and shootings. Only two-thirds of respondents reported feeling very safe in their own neighborhood during the day — down from 75 percent in 2003 and just under 80 percent in 1999. Barely 30 percent — again an all-time low — said they felt very safe in their neighborhood at night. No mayor — even one recently re-elected in a landslide — could ignore that level of outright fear in his city.
And the concerns went well beyond fear of bullets. All-time-high percentages reported problems in their neighborhood in almost every category they were asked about, including drug sales, vandalism, noises, burglary, neglected litter, stealing from cars, kids hanging around, criminal gangs, public drinking, gun usage, and graffiti.
Today, the BPD and the mayor’s office brag about the drop in the number of shootings since Davis took over. Which are legitimate gains, but, at least so far, are small and largely overstated.
Youth violence in particular does not seem to have abated at all. The number of murder victims under age 25 was higher in 2007 than in any year since 1995 — and this year is on a similar pace, with 23 young victims through mid July.
After a relatively peaceful start to 2008, shootings during the past four months have been equal to those a year ago, and not far off of 2006’s record pace. In the past month, shootings that have victimized at least one person have risen well above the one-a-day crisis level. “We’ve had a tough couple of weeks,” says Davis.