Yesterday, the Marshall Project published a feature that examines what they’ve termed as the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) “Yelp for Cops.” Officially known as the “sentiment meter,” it was introduced by the NYPD in April to monitor public opinion about police performance, feelings of safety and trust in the police.
The NYPD has been co-developing the sentiment meter with Brooklyn-based startup Elucd since late 2016. But what incited its development in the first place? And, what is its intention other than to monitor New York City residents’ perceptions of the police?
Former NYPD Police Commissioner William J. Bratton describes the main questions that prompted its creation: “Crime is down dramatically, quality of life has improved so dramatically, why are we still getting negative sentiments from certain neighborhoods, from certain streets, from certain people?”
NYPD officials claim the sentiment meter is intended to help residents become more comfortable in their interactions with the police. NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill further explained to the Marshall Project, “Crime numbers in New York City are at record lows. If we are going to push those numbers down even further, we have to make sure that we have the trust of the 8.6 million people that live in New York City.”
For the sentiment meter to operate, Elucd retrieves data from questionnaires administered through 50,000 smartphone applications, such as Candy Crush and Weather Bug, in addition to standard landline calls. The company is also working to collect data via survey links on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
The meter then separates responses into precinct sectors, which are the “297 geographical areas that the NYPD created in 2015 as part of its push to give beat cops more autonomy within the pockets they control.” The data ultimately generates into a map that assigns a color to each precinct sector based on the results. For example, dark red indicates significant negative changes in trust, whereas light green signifies positive changes in trust.
Understandably, there have been concerns about the meter’s effectiveness—within both the NYPD and the general public.
“The challenge is going to be: how to get it down to the officer level, where the officer doesn’t see this as a danger to him, where he’s been evaluated by these anonymous citizens that are commenting on what’s going on in his area of patrol,” Bratton explained to the Marshall Project.
Selina Balestier, a recent MBA graduate from a cop family, expressed her uncertainty about the meter to the Marshall Project: “How are you verifying the integrity of this data?” Elucd’s founder, Michael Simon, is currently working to address this question without compromising the anonymity of questionnaire respondents.
In the meantime, the city of New York is expected to renew their contract with Elucd to maintain the meter for one more year. “What we are trying to do here is to increase outreach, increase engagement, create relationships, and build on those relationships,” O’Neill told the Marshall Project. “I think this is important information.”