All over the United States, there’s often a disconnect between law enforcement agencies and the communities they’re sworn to protect. Officers can struggle to serve those communities effectively.
The Aurora (IL) Police Department is determined to bridge the gap between officers and the communities they serve.
These efforts are led by Administrative Services Lieutenant Bill Rowley, a 27-year veteran of the Aurora PD. In some ways, this role takes Rowley full circle; he spent his early years in law enforcement as a patrol officer, specialized in community policing and was promoted into roles in homicide, public information officer and hostage negotiation.
Based on his experience, Rowley knows that “In order for a police department to be exceptional… it really needs to hear from the community.”
Upon stepping into the Administrative Services Lieutenant role, Rowley’s “overarching goal” has been “a reduction of crime and reduction of the fear of crime, but also increased transparency and increased communication with our community.”
However, that has been made more difficult in recent years. Rising distrust between the police and the public has made it harder to engage with the city he’s sworn to protect as well as making retention a challenge.
“We are struggling, like everyone else is, in getting good quality folks… and getting our good quality police officers to stick around.”
Rowley acknowledged that part of the issue is that community satisfaction can be hard to measure. While agencies track metrics like the number of arrests made, traffic tickets issued and illegal contraband seized, those numbers don’t reveal anything about local sentiment.
Meanwhile, the residents of Aurora are often more concerned with issues that directly affect them: domestic disputes, noisy neighbors and traffic enforcement.“
As a citizen, my measure of policing is how [officers] meet my needs,” Rowley said. “So then I go back and say, what are my needs as a member of the community?”
In order to achieve his goals, Rowley looked for a way to meet those needs while showing quantifiable results that measured the efficacy of a community-first approach.
Having already reached “a high level of satisfaction” with Axon body-worn cameras, in-car cameras and TASER energy devices, Rowley knew where to look. After internal discussions and research, the department deployed My90 in 2022, an engagement tool that bridges the gap between police leadership, employees and community members.
With My90, Aurora PD could deploy internal and external surveys to get direct, confidential feedback about their efforts.
Here’s how it works: Once someone places a call to the police department from a mobile phone, My90 automatically sends that caller a short survey via text message, typically a few hours after the original call.
The text message includes a confidential survey link and does not require creating an account, downloading an app, or any additional steps.
Rowley explained, “We’ll ask them questions about how the initial dispatcher treated them and how the officer who was ultimately sent to the call treated them... Did they get their questions answered, did they get the help that they needed? Were they treated with respect and dignity? Did we do what you asked us to do? And did we do it professionally and with courtesy?”
Surveys are user-friendly and take less than a minute to complete. Additionally, community events and social media can give the department even more ways to share surveys with the general public and engage with the community.
Rowley also used My90 internally to gauge officer wellness and reduce the burnout that led to retention issues.
“Not only do we have a responsibility to the community, we have a responsibility to our own people,” Rowley said, stressing the value of these internal surveys.
While incorporating new technology and getting support from city council can often be a slow process, Rowley says that setting up My90 “was easier than I could have possibly imagined.”
He was able to get buy-in from the local police unions, emphasizing that My90’s commitment to communicating clearly and transparently made the transition run smoothly from the start.
Because My90 was designed with public safety in mind, it does exactly what he wants it to do, which saves him the hassle of trying to adapt other solutions to the department’s needs.
“I’ve gotten exactly what I expected to get and a heck of a lot more,” he said. The automated features let Rowley put My90 “on autopilot” and simply check out the survey results in My90’s web-based dashboards and PDF reports.
The external response has been particularly enlightening, Rowley explained. Often, those with the loudest voices are heard the most, even if their opinions don’t represent the majority of the community. Implementing My90 gave community members who interact with officers a voice while showing compelling evidence that the Aurora PD’s efforts were on the right track.
One of the most valuable findings from the survey data so far was that survey respondents in Aurora wanted more officers on the streets.
“Overwhelmingly, people said, “We want to see more police officers. We want to see you hire more police officers. We want to see more police officers on the street, more police officers in our neighborhood.”
Rowley was able to leverage these responses and successfully work with the City Council to hire and train more officers.
Interestingly, the data didn’t represent a lot of extreme feelings, either positive or negative. It turns out that when you make it easy and convenient to speak up, people are happy to participate, and their feedback is reasonable and actionable.
My90 has also proven beneficial for those within the Aurora PD. Because the officer surveys are confidential and independently managed, officers can voice their opinions without fear of reprisal. Honest feedback makes it easier for command staff to make sure their efforts to support officers and organizational wellness are on track.
Like with external surveys, the data from officer surveys point Rowley towards trends and emerging issues. For example, if internal surveys repeatedly call out a station’s dated technology, Rowley knows that it’s a legitimate threat to productivity and not just a few “squeaky wheels” complaining.
The success of My90 in Aurora shows that feedback is a critical piece of the law enforcement puzzle.
As a key part of the Aurora PD’s suite of law enforcement tools and solutions, My90 helps ensure the community’s needs are heard. In fact, residents “look forward to” the surveys, often screenshotting and sharing them with others in the neighborhood.
To learn more about how My90 can help you better serve your own community, get in touch with the experts at Axon.