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And the police survey says? 120 North Bend residents answer questions about police change, say they’re satisfied but want savings
People in North Bend are extremely satisfied with their existing police service, according to a recent telephone survey. A majority of them would support the switch to another department, according to the same survey. Aren’t these contradictory findings?
“I don’t think they are,” said North Bend City Administrator Londi Lindell. “Oftentimes, people can be very happy with what they have,” she continued, but something new could trigger their willingness to change, such as money, in this case.
The money Lindell referred to is an estimated $300,000 that North Bend expects to save annually by ending its contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office, and entering a new five-year contract with the Snoqualmie Police Department. Those savings, along with a dedicated model of police service, were listed as benefits of the city changing contracts, in a telephone survey of 120 people conducted the week of July 23.
No negative impacts of the change were described to the survey respondents, however, as the results were presented by Ian Stewart of EMC Research at the Aug. 7 council meeting.
North Bend has been considering the contract change, sporadically, for several years, and the council is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, Aug. 21. Council members requested the $4,000 survey to gather more public opinion on the contract, before the vote. Because the presentation was part of council business, audience member Jim Curtis, who began an out-of-order criticism of the survey’s “leading questions,” was asked to hold his comments.
He, and other citizens, though, were encouraged to phone or e-mail the city with their thoughts on the change.
“This is not going to be an easy decision for any of us,” said Councilman Alan Gothelf.
Stewart began his presentation with information about the survey process. Respondents were randomly selected from voter registrations, and each person was contacted up to six times, to be sure they were reached, Stewart said. Of the 120 people who answered the survey, a majority, 37 percent were in the 45 to 59 age group, and 71 percent had lived in North Bend for 10 or more years. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 8.8, with 95 percent confidence of accuracy.
“The point of what we do is to take statistical numbers, and project them to a large sample,” Stewart said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
He noted that interviewers did not specifically state the subject of the survey, as a way to prevent bias. Lindell had specifically requested a bias-free approach, she told the Record later in the week.
“I said ‘I want objective questions,’ and told them about the issues that the council’s been dealing with,” she said.
Stewart said interviewers, after assuring respondents that they were not salesmen, begin with general “warm-up questions.” Those responses indicated that most citizens felt the city was doing a good job overall (65 percent positive) and responsible in spending tax dollars (52 percent positive), but especially well in delivering police services (69 percent positive). The vast majority of people, 84 percent, knew that the city contracted with King County for police, and when asked to rate King County’s service, 86 percent were satisfied.
Next, respondents were asked to rank various aspects of police services by their importance. Three characteristics ranked highest: Response times are five minutes or less at all times (92 percent); Dedicated police officer within North Bend at all times (89 percent); and Officer available to respond to all calls, regardless of issue, or “no call too small” (86 percent).
Lower-ranked characteristics included stable, predictable police contract costs (75 percent); a long record of service to the city (69 percent); a supervisor available to assist officers at all times (67 percent); police costs not reducing funding for city projects such as parks and streets (54 percent) and contracting costs not requiring a tax increase (51 percent).
Finally, respondents were read a statement about North Bend’s current contract costs, about $1.5 million per year, and an expected increase of 5 percent annually, and the city’s option to save about $300,000 annually by contracting with Snoqualmie. Given this information, 65 percent of respondents were in favor of changing to Snoqualmie, 30 percent were opposed and 5 percent said they didn’t know.
Stewart summarized the findings by telling the council, “People like the services they’re provided now, but they also like the idea of saving money, so these are competing interests you’re going to have to deal with.”
Lindell felt the citizens had spoken “loud and clear,” regarding their priorities for police service — short response times, a dedicated officer in the city at all times, and the motto of “no call too small.”
“To meet those priorities, we would need a dedicated model,” Lindell thought.
Since the survey results were presented, Lindell said she’d met with representatives from the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“They believe, with fairly good certainty, the cost will only increase 3 percent next year,” she said.
When the council meets Aug. 21, she will present them with the latest, but not final, cost estimates from the Sheriff’s Department on both a flexible model, which the city currently has, and a dedicated model, to compare with Snoqualmie’s offer for a dedicated model.