The Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research at the University of the Fraser Valley recently released the results of its 2010 Abbotsford Public Safety Survey in conjunction with the Abbotsford Police Department. The survey was sent out in June to 1,132 Abbotsford residents, of which 40 per cent (456 residents) responded.
Dr. Irwin Cohen, director of the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, explained that this was the first joint-initiative survey that UFV has conducted with the Abbotsford Police Department, but the school has completed similar surveys in RCMP jurisdictions across the province.
He said that while UFV typically get a 30-40 per cent response rate on their surveys, the average for most other institutions is about 12-13 per cent. UFV is able to garner more responses thanks to its methodology: the surveys are sent out in official police envelopes, there is a short deadline for responses, and the letter is followed a few days later with a phone call encouraging the recipient to respond.
The respondents to the survey almost universally indicated that they were either very satisfied (28 per cent) or mainly satisfied (65 per cent) with the Abbotsford Police Department, for a total of 93 per cent. Satisfaction with individual officers was high. Cohen said, “I think that the important thing about this survey is that is shows that, although citizens will naturally always have concerns, on a day-to-day basis and at the individual level, residents are satisfied with the police in Abbotsford. They are happy with the police department, and they are happy with the officers as individuals as well.”
The study, which was released one week before Abbotsford was named Canada’s Murder Capital for the second year in a row, indicated that the overwhelming majority of Abbotsford respondents feel safe in their homes (96 per cent), neighbourhood (96 per cent) and community (93 per cent) during the day, compared to 91 per cent, 82 per cent, and 71 respectively at night. Overall, 39 per cent of respondents reported feeling less safe than they did five years ago.
Thirteen per cent of the respondents, or approximately 59 residents, reported that they had been the victim of a crime in the last twelve months. Of those respondents who had been victims of a crime, 87 per cent had been the victim of property crimes. Only six people said that they had been the victim of a personal crime. About one third of all respondent victims of crime did not report it to the police, mostly because they felt the police could not do anything about it (72 per cent), or because they felt the crime was too minor or unimportant to be worth reporting (38 per cent).
Respondents were also presented with a list of things that may be a problem in their neighbourhood and were asked to select all the problems that they felt required more police resources and attention. The top five problems selected were drug trafficking (41 per cent), property crime (34 per cent), traffic enforcement (30 per cent), drug production (29 per cent) and organized crime/gangs (27 per cent).
The Abbotsford News cited Constable Ian McDonald as saying that the top three areas were all areas which the APD had addressed in their own 2010 strategic plan. He believes that the 13 traffic-related deaths in Abbotsford this year spurred the high interest in traffic enforcement.
Cohen suggested that citizen interest in traffic enforcement could also be generated by the importance of traffic in residents’ daily lives: “People ask themselves [-] what do I come in contact with everyday? What affects me the most?”
Interestingly, more respondents prioritized litter, broken glass, trash or graffiti in their neighbourhood (16 per cent), over prostitution (11 per cent) or personal or violent crime (11 per cent).
The demographics of the respondents to the voluntary survey do not always reflect Abbotsford’s demographics according to the 2006 census. The 456 respondents represent only 0.37 per cent of the 123,864 residents recorded in the census. Sixty-one per cent of respondents were male and 39 per cent were female, compared to 49.3 per cent and 50.6 per cent respectively according to the census. The median age of the respondents was 58 years old, while the median age for Abbotsford residents is 36.6 years old.
The survey also failed to be representative of Abbotsford’s ethnic diversity: Caucasians comprised 83 per cent of respondents, South Asians comprised eight per cent, while Aboriginal, Asiatic, Black or Other together comprised nine per cent. The census recorded that Caucasians represent 73 per cent of Abbotsford’s population, South Asians represent 19 per cent, and other groups representing about eight per cent.
Cohen explained that results like this are typical of any voluntary survey: “These surveys take time to fill out, so we tend to get more responses from older citizens with more available time.” He also mentioned possible reasons for the low ethnic response rate: “It’s been suggested that their may be language barriers, or even cultural barriers,” he said. “Some people don’t want to say anything about the police.”