Survey Analyzes Community Views on Policing in Medford and Somerville

While community residents express some satisfaction, they see inequalities and opportunity for change according to survey by Tufts professor and students
A line of four police cars with their lights on drive down a city street
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March 15, 2021

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Residents of Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts are somewhat satisfied with policing in their communities—although satisfaction is lower among residents of color—and favor creating civilian review boards, deploying more resources for social services workers to respond to certain types of crises, and eliminating certain policing tactics, according to a survey by a Tufts University professor and a group of student researchers.

“In Medford and Somerville, we found that residents perceive inequalities in how residents are treated based on race and ethnicity,” said Brian Schaffner, Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies at Tufts’ Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Department of Political Science in Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences. “And these perceptions can have important consequences—like, for example, many residents of color reporting that they would feel uncomfortable calling police if they need help.”

Schaffner also pointed to overwhelming support for several reform proposals, especially the creation of a civilian review board in each city. “In my experience with polling, I have rarely found any policy that attracts as much support as the civilian review board does in these surveys. There appears to be a resounding mandate for this change in both Medford and Somerville.”

Read the Medford report here, and read the Somerville report here.

Key findings in Medford include:

  • About one-in-five Medford residents, and one-in-four residents of color, report having had at least one negative experience with the Medford police. Over half of Medford residents have had at least one positive experience involving the Medford police.
  • More than 80% of Medford residents say that the Medford police make them feel somewhat or mostly safe. This is relatively consistent with national surveys on policing.
  • There is more dissatisfaction among residents of color. One-fourth of Medford residents of color are dissatisfied with the police and nearly 30% say that the Medford police make them feel unsafe.
  • There is high support (73%) among Medford residents for the creation of a civilian review board to oversee policing. There is little support for policing tactics like choke holds (7% support), tear gas (24% support) and rubber bullets (26% support).

Key findings in Somerville include:

  • About half of Somerville residents are satisfied with the Somerville police and 79% say that the Somerville police make them feel somewhat or mostly safe. This is relatively consistent with national surveys on policing.
  • The researchers found more dissatisfaction among residents of color. One-fifth of Somerville residents of color are dissatisfied with the police and nearly 30% say that the Somerville police make them feel unsafe.
  • There is overwhelming support among Somerville residents for the creation of a civilian review board to oversee policing. 81% of residents want to see the creation of such a board and only 6% are opposed.
  • A majority of Somerville residents think only social service workers should respond to situations involving mental health crises, homeless individuals, neighbor disputes, and intoxicated individuals.

Schaffner is an experienced pollster. He is currently co-directing the Cooperative Election Study survey and has previously directed UMass Poll. He collaborated with Tufts students Carolina Espinal, Jaime Givens, Carolina Olea Lezama, José Martínez, Maya Morris, Sibi Nyaoga, Lidya Woldeyesus and Leah Yohannes throughout the summer and fall of 2020 to develop and conduct the survey. The students coauthored the final reports with Schaffner.

The researchers invited thousands of residents from each community by letter to take the survey and provided them with a unique code to access the survey online. Ultimately, they received almost 500 valid survey responses from Medford and over 600 valid survey responses from Somerville. The samples were weighted to ensure that it was representative of the population of adult residents in Medford and Somerville.