May 1, 2023 - News

Little follow-up to online crime reporting in Portland

Data: Kris Henning, Portland State University; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Kris Henning, Portland State University; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of property crime reports in Portland are filed using the Portland Police Bureau's online system. But with little regular follow-up, victim satisfaction is low.

Why it matters: Like most large cities, Portland encourages online reporting for many nonviolent crimes to save resources, as an alternative to calling police. But when victims feel that the reports go nowhere, it increases frustration with the city overall.

Driving the news: New research found that 62% of people filing crime reports online said it was easy, but just over 16% were satisfied with the department's response.

  • "People expect when they make a report, there's gonna be a follow-up," says lead researcher Kris Henning of Portland State University.
  • Having an officer call or email to follow up even more than three weeks later more than doubled victims' satisfaction.

What they did: In 14 mostly northeast Portland neighborhoods, PSU researchers paid off-duty officers to call people who filed online crime reports, leaving messages and sending emails if no one picked up.

  • Officers made more than 3,000 calls or emails over 15 months, using specific scripts.
  • Six nearby control neighborhoods got no special follow-up calls.

What they found: 16.7% of crime victims in the control neighborhoods did get some follow-up anyway, through routine officer assignment. But victims who got called as part of the research expressed more satisfaction.

  • 10.1% more said that the officer took the incident seriously.
  • 12.8% more said the officer showed concern for their welfare.

Context: The email and call scripts were designed with procedural justice elements, like treating people respectfully and making them feel that their concerns were heard.

Zoom in: Right now, a sworn Portland police officer reviews each online report, forwarding it to an investigator if they spot a lead or pattern.

  • But few property crimes yield good evidence, Sgt. Stephen Yakots, the police liaison to the study, tells Axios, and many online reporters mainly want a case number for insurance.

Zoom out: LexisNexis' Coplogic Solutions owns the software that Portland and more than 550 other law enforcement agencies use, according to a company spokesperson.

  • The company estimates that agencies using the system collectively saved 27 million officer hours and $45 million in 2022.
Data: Portland Police Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Portland Police Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

The intrigue: Some victims suggested Portland's non-officer public safety support specialists could follow up. But there are no such plans.

  • "As of right now, I think city leadership and bureau leadership is more comfortable having a sworn police officer look at a crime report and then assessing where it needs to go," Yakots told Axios.

Of note: This research has nothing to do with solving property crimes; it is focused on increasing trust and sharing information.

What's next: Henning is seeking funding to do expanded research citywide.

  • The police bureau plans to add a video of Chief Chuck Lovell expressing empathy and offering tips to the online reporting portal this month.
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