How Klamath Falls is Using Real Resident Feedback to Increase Accountability & Align the Police Department’s Budget with the Community and with Council
Klamath Falls Police Chief David Henslee has spent the past decade demilitarizing the police force. Nonetheless, when he came to Council at the end of 2020 to recommend purchasing an armored vehicle for his SWAT team using salary savings, he was met with strong resident pushback. After using Zencity data to respond to the public, discourse about the armored vehicle dropped from 25% negative to less than 1% negative, paving the way for Council to approve Chief Henslee’s purchase.
The Klamath Falls Police Department has a positive relationship with the City Council and is valued by its residents. This is largely due to the Police Chief’s active policy of demilitarizing the police force; the Department’s ethos of “Policing with Purpose;” and the hard work of Police Chief David Henslee and the City for whom accountability is a primary value. Nonetheless, in December of 2020, when Chief Henslee presented the idea of purchasing an armored vehicle for the Department’s safety at a virtual Council meeting, he was met with strong resident pushback.
The Challenge & the Zencity Solution
The morning following the meeting, the local newspaper covered the Police Chief’s request with an article featuring an image that looked like “a little tank” and listing a high price tag. When the Assistant City Manager logged onto the City’s Zencity dashboard, which he does daily, he was met with overwhelmingly negative feedback – Klamath Falls residents’ discourse was dominated by discussion about the armored vehicle. While normally the City would not have been too moved by a local news piece covering a Police Department funding request, the dashboard put the City on alert that the community was not comfortable with the request as it stood.
Based on the data, the City Manager’s Office, Public Information Officer, and Chief of Police quickly came together to discuss their response and next steps. A dive into the data helped them understand that they had two issues to tackle:
- A misperception around the purpose of purchasing the vehicle, which the public saw as militaristic even though the Police Chief was specifically requesting to buy a vehicle designed for municipal and not military use; and
- A misunderstanding around funding and the public’s belief that the Police Chief was asking for additional funding for the purchase. In reality, as he had presented to Council, the cost of the vehicle would be 100% covered by existing funds from “salary savings.”
With this kind of response, before the City decided whether or not to even put the purchase of the vehicle up to vote before City Council, City leadership wanted to be accountable to their residents and wanted to address their concerns, and further assess community feedback.
Zencity makes us more accountable. Prior to using Zencity, when something was presented at Council we could easily say – no one showed up and said anything. Sure there’s some negative press, but isn’t there always? Since no one’s coming in and talking to us about it, we don’t have to do anything else, right? Now with Zencity, we can be more accountable. We can identify and address resident concerns. We can really have resident input inform our decisions and our policy-making.
Eric Osterberg, Assistant to the City Manager
The Impact: Shifting Community Response Based on Data-Informed Action
Traditionally, the City uses social media in a more sterile, one-way fashion, and Department Directors do not use it to engage. This time, because the City felt confident in its data and felt that it really understood resident response, the Police Chief decided to directly address the two main concerns in a Facebook post.
With the Police Chief’s post, informed by Zencity’s real resident feedback, the City was able to effectively address public concern effectively. Zencity’s dashboard saw a dramatic drop both in the amount of discourse about the vehicle, and a shift from 25% of the discourse being negative to less than 1% negative discussion. Thanks to the success of the post, the Klamath Falls Police Department was not only able to keep the option of an armored vehicle on the table despite initial resistance, during the Spring budget process, it succeeded in winning the support of Council and received permission to move forward with the purchase.
Today, the Klamath Falls Police Department uses Zencity’s data to inform its decisions and get residents on board and aligned. Ultimately, the Department - like all of City Hall - wants to know that it’s serving the community with the support of its residents, and Zencity helps us do that.