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Survey aims to capture perceived racial biases about police, parole officers

Criminal justice and law enforcement officials announced a new survey designed to capture implicit racial biases perceived by both residents and law enforcement.

Survey questions include: How well do you understand the risks and challenges police officers face? And if you’ve had contact with a police officer within the last six months – did you feel you were treated fairly?

Other questions focus on race – and whether residents feel that plays a role in the treatment they or others – receive from law enforcement.

Alison Wakelin with the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow hopes to help expand the survey's reach to residents and community groups. But she's concerned the survey won’t reach residents who interact with law enforcement the most.

“If this is done by computer, then you automatically sort of missing out on some of the people in poverty who are the ones you really need to hear from most of all," Wakelin said.

Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine argues technology won’t be a barrier.

“We should acknowledge the realities of poverty – which is the fact that people who are poor, that often doesn’t mean they don’t have an iPhone," he said.

Strine and others are relying on non-profit groups to distribute the link to the anonymous online survey. A similar survey being distributed to law enforcement, probation and parole officers.


Former U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly helped draft the 41-question survey with help from law enforcement and University of Pennsylvania researchers. He admitted there’s room for improvement.


“How do you ensure that every single Delawarean received a link so that they could participate in the survey? That’s the weakness of the survey: the methodology," Connolly said. "So we’re not purporting to say this is an empirically valid survey that would pass academic tests, that’s not the point of it. This is a first step.

There's an awful lot of people out there who are very, very inclined to express very strong opinions - not facts, but opinions. We do have statistics that show that there's a disproportionate number of African Americans in our justice system. That's a fact. But the cause of that has not been determined factually, and that's one of the main missions of this committee - is to find out: what are the causes of that."

This survey is expected to help the Access to Justice Committee on Fairness in partnership with the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council identify issues they need to examine. New Castle County Col. Vaughn Bond hopes the results will help local law enforcement agencies realize where they can improve, too.


"One of the mistakes that I think we make in law enforcement is that we tend to rely on statistics to indicate whether or not we're successful in what we're doing," Bond said. "If crime is down, we tend to say 'we're doing an excellent job.' But is that really an accurate measure?"

Connolly says an empirical study could be considered further down the road and is something he’s discussing with local academics. No timetable was given for completion of the survey, or analysis of its results.






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