Oxford to assess social justice concerns through police survey


Observer file photo

Protesters gather outside the Oxford Police Department during last September’s Black Lives Matter demonstration.

By Bridget Bonanni

The City of Oxford has sent 3,500 randomly selected households a survey asking what people think of the Oxford Police Department (OPD).

The survey is prompted by a desire to be proactive in assessing the department’s performance in the wake of concerns raised about police operations around the country and several incidents of deadly police violence against civilians.

“Police reform and police community relations has been a hot topic this (past) summer, after the George Floyd incident,” said Police Chief John Jones. Floyd was an unarmed Black man killed last May by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck. The incident was captured on video, which went viral and led to nationwide protests.

“[Police conduct] has come to the forefront of the minds of the council, it’s being talked about in the community,” Jones said. “Prior to that, I do not want to say there was a lack of interest, but [police] were not a hot topic at council meetings.” 

City Manager Doug Elliott said the survey has not been prompted by any negative feedback about Oxford Police, but rather by a desire to address nationwide concerns in Oxford. 

“There is a heightened awareness about the services that every police department provides in their community and how we can make sure that everyone is being treated equitably and fairly, which we feel strongly that we do here,” Elliott said. 

The city is utilizing an independent research firm called POLCO to conduct the survey. The survey asks citizens general questions, such as how many times they were in contact with anyone from the Police Division in Oxford over the last 12 months and to rate the job the Police Division does at things such as assisting victims of crime and maintaining public order. 

Oxford Police Division did have some say in the survey’s questions. “I’ve been somewhat involved and had the opportunity to add a couple custom questions, but for the most part, the survey is a standardized survey used to benchmark us compared to other police agencies throughout the nation,” Jones said. 

He reviewed the survey before it was sent out and noticed there weren’t any questions about the division’s use of social media, so he decided to add a few questions about social media engagement with the community. 

“We get a lot of positive feedback on our social media, but I’ve also had some negative feedback before,” Jones said. “So I’m kind of just wondering what the citizens’ views are, if they follow us, and what they think of it.” 

Oxford has not had the type of complaints about violence against its officers that have occurred in other communities, but the city does not want to be complacent.

“It’s good to survey your residents about services the city provides from time to time,” Elliot said. “It’s been over 14 years since we last did a similar survey about the services the police division provides.”

Demonstrations and rallies in support of Black Lives Matter in Oxford last June and September were peaceful and generally supported by the police. Jones was a speaker at one Uptown vigil in memory of George Floyd last June.

Oxford Police Chief John Jones speaks at a Black Lives Matter vigil uptown last June. Observer file photo

I want to thank all of you for standing together in solidarity against this injustice,” Jones told the crowd at the vigil. “ I know that the reason we are gathering here is about the death of George Floyd and others [that] are a result of police misconduct and gross violation of human dignity [by] people who wear a badge, like the one I’m wearing. I understand that and I’m ashamed of that.”

The police can always use more training, and must constantly be aware of how they are interacting with the community, he said. 

According to Elliott, more than 350 responses to the survey have been received as of this week and a second postcard was sent out to the same 3,500 households to remind people to complete the survey. 

“Probably next week or thereafter we’ll be allowing anyone within the city to complete the survey,” Elliott said. The survey will be posted on the City of Oxford’s website when made available to the public and it will be kept open until March 10, he said. 

As for anticipated future plans or changes in regards to the Oxford Police Department, Jones said they are not sitting back and waiting for the survey results before taking action.

“Our Police Community Relations and Review Commission has put together a working group to study a nexus of social work and policing,” he said. 

The commission is trying to anticipate what the Oxford Police Department needs to help the broader community and assess the need for additional resources, whether that be a police social worker or more collaboration with mental health agencies, the chief said. 

“We’ll see what [the survey] says and if there are some recommendations that come out of it, we will definitely look at those,” Jones said.