OPINION: Another police survey in Meriden?

By John Talbot

I write in response to the article published in the R-J on February 4, page A1, about the new survey designed to gauge residents’ trust in the police. I commented on the previous survey (see R-J June 20, 2021, page D1) and won’t repeat what I said there, except to elaborate on one point: you will never get a “fair and representative sample” from a digital survey, advertised through digital media, because different groups in society have differential access to digital media. Some people don’t use it at all.

The only way to get a representative sample is to draw a scientific sample of all residents, where each individual resident truly has an equal chance of being selected into the sample, and then go out and find those selected people and ask them the questions. This is an expensive and time-consuming process.

I write to object to the framing of this issue that seems to have taken hold in the public discourse, that there are only two sides to this debate: 1. You trust the police and therefore think a civilian review board is unnecessary, or, 2. You do not trust the police and therefore support the creation of a civilian review board.

This is not accurate, as I said in my public comments to the City Council when the proposal was first considered. I trust the Meriden police and I support the creation of the civilian review board. I think the vast majority of supporters of the board agree with me on this. The first survey showed a generally favorable opinion of the police, and I expect this one will show similar results. However, as I said in my public comments, this is not the real issue. We cannot rest complacently in Meriden thinking that the police will never do anything wrong, after seeing the endless stories and videos of police killing innocent members of minority groups across the country over the last decade. We must have the board in place in case anything like that ever happens here. I hope it never does, but I cannot assure anyone that it never will.

I would suggest that the real issue is not whether a white, middle class resident like myself trusts the police. I have had very little interaction with the police during the five years I have lived here. Instead, the real issue is, what are the opinions of the people who have had direct interactions with the police? Do they believe that they were treated fairly and respectfully? Those questions would necessitate a very different kind of survey of people who have been stopped, arrested, questioned, or warned by the police, to ask how they experienced their interactions. From what I know of police activity in Meriden, I suspect these results would also be generally favorable toward the police. But the objections of people who didn’t feel fairly treated might be more useful to the police chief, if he is interested in further improving the already positive opinions that Meriden residents in general hold toward the police. Instead, this new survey, and the public framing of the issue that it embodies, seem aimed primarily at giving opponents of the review board more ammunition to continue a campaign designed to abolish civilian review.

Meriden resident John M. Talbot is an adjunct professor at Tunxis Community College. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Michigan.


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