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Flaws cited in Open Buffalo’s survey on police relations with citizens

The survey results bore some troubling news: Buffalo residents don’t believe that police respect minorities.

The community survey conducted by Open Buffalo, a local movement for social and economic justice, found that 60 percent of city respondents thought that police don’t respect “people of color.”

That one statistic made it near the top of all three main Buffalo television newscasts Monday evening.

But the news release accompanying the 26-page survey results from Open Buffalo omitted one key point:

Twice as many African-Americans as whites responded to the survey – in a city with more white than black residents.

According to the survey, 50 percent of the people responding identified themselves as black or African-American, compared with 24.5 percent white. The 2010 U.S. census, however, lists Buffalo as 50 percent white and 39 percent black.

That means the survey, conducted this past spring, greatly underrepresented white residents, while overrepresenting blacks.

“When you do a survey, at the very least, they should have weighted it to mirror the ethnic distribution in the city,” said Barry Zeplowitz, a veteran pollster who runs Barry Zeplowitz & Associates.

“If they don’t, it can’t be a credible survey. When they’re off by 25 percent, as it relates to the Caucasian population, it’s a flawed survey.”

Max Anderson, communications director for Open Buffalo, replied that this was not a scientific survey and was never set up to be one.

“We were really trying to gauge the perceptions and go beyond anecdotal evidence and stories that we hear about the relationship between police and the community,” he said.

Franchelle C. Hart, Open Buffalo’s executive director, cited the lengths to which the survey went to hear from all parts of the community. As an example, the survey was translated into Spanish, Burmese, Karen and Nepali to reach voices that often aren’t heard.

“We really wanted to get into the community and have conversations with people,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that all communities facing issues with law enforcement were well represented, that their voices were heard in the process.”

Hart added that she hopes the survey’s data can be used as a baseline for recommendations on community policing, to improve communications and trust between city residents and police.

In its news release, Open Buffalo highlighted 10 survey findings, including many that were more positive than the question about police respecting minorities. Among those points:

• About 50 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of the Buffalo Police Department, compared with 41 percent with an unfavorable impression.

• Fifty-one percent believe that Buffalo police officers will help them when they’re in need, compared with 27 percent who said police would not help.

• Forty-four percent say that police do a poor job working with the community to prevent crime.

And the point about police not respecting people of color was listed last among the 10 highlights.

Zeplowitz, the pollster, was quick to note that many of the observations may be valid.

“These conclusions could be absolutely correct, but they can’t be confirmed, based on the methods they used,” he said. “I have to assume this was done in good faith, but again, it seems to have lacked the professionalism needed for a truly random sample of the City of Buffalo.”

The survey of 2,018 residents was conducted across the city, at grocery stores, metro stops, community events, neighborhood meetings and other sites, according to the survey data.

The Open Buffalo survey seems to have skewed toward young people, with about 38 percent of the respondents being 25 or younger and about 6 percent 65 or older. The 2010 census lists Buffalo’s senior citizens as 11.4 percent of the population.

“This is not a proper sample when you get 6 percent (of respondents) over 65,” Zeplowitz said.

The release of the Community Policing Survey kicked off Open Buffalo’s Justice & Opportunity Week, billed as five days of community education and empowerment, continuing through Friday.

Those events are listed on the movement’s website, at openbuffalo.org.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com

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