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Police Launch Public Survey Tool
 

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By Jorge Casuso

August 4, 2022 -- The Santa Monica Police Department launched a public survey tool on Thursday that officials say will help them "better understand local concerns, priorities, and trust in public safety officers."

The tool provided by Zencity, an Israeli data-analysis firm that has contracts with hundreds of municipalities and agencies nationwide, can be accessed by local residents in both English and Spanish on their mobile devices.

“We are always striving to gather input from our community and this platform is an additional tool for listening to the needs and concerns of our community members which will help us make the best decisions to help keep our city safe," said Chief Ramon Batista.

Based on the responses, the survey measures the community's satisfaction with local services and quality of life in the city, Police officials said.

It also identifies "key concerns that residents want the city to address," officials said. The survey results will be shared with the public on a quarterly basis as they become available.

The survey "incorporates voices from every corner of the community" by setting response targets based on U.S. Census data about the city, according to the company.

"Zencity ensures the security and privacy of its data and survey respondents," the company states. "Survey responses are anonymous unless a respondent chooses to share their email address for follow-up purposes."

According to the Zencity's privacy policy, "We collect cookie data and fingerprint data of respondents to surveys" and "answers to survey questions being asked."

The policy notes that the data is "analyzed in an aggregate form for statistical purposes and survey responses will not be linked to any identifying information when shared with Customers."

Respondents can choose to provide their email addresses in order to receive additional surveys in the future, according to the policy.

Civil rights advocates have questioned the use of Zencity's main service, saying it could be used for mass surveillance, according to a July 2021 report in WIRED.

"Zencity creates custom reports for city officials and law enforcement, using machine learning to scan public conversations from social media, messaging boards, local news reports, and 311 calls, promising insights on how residents are responding to a particular topic," WIRED wrote.

The company began offering the surveys in addition to its main service to better gauge public opinion, said Eyal Feder-Levy, Zencity's CEO.

Denver used the survey to gauge community sentiment about traffic-light-mounted cameras after a spike in deaths caused by drivers running red lights, Dan Wilson, a spokesman for the City told WIRED.

“In the end it comes down to the fact that most police departments just don’t have the time or the knowledge to do what Zencity can do,” Wilson said.

“These reports were really valuable, to give me a snapshot of what was happening in my community, so I could then go and advise and get better information to decisionmakers.”


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