Since Michael Kochis became Charlottesville’s police chief in January, the department has implemented multiple changes in order to build trust and partnership in the city. The latest, expected to be launched as a pilot program around September, is a customer service-style survey for police officers.
Charlottesville Police Department plans to partner with Guardian Score, a program that allows people to rate their specific interactions with police officers on the basis of five traits, and to leave detailed feedback on officer interactions. Those five traits include: telling “why,” listening skills, fairness, professionalism and next steps.
“It’s just a way to measure how we are doing through confirmed police-citizen encounters,” Kochis told The Daily Progress. “How are we doing in the realm of relational policing? How are we treating the folks we’re encountering while out there on patrol?”
Officers will be required to hand out their business cards after interactions, such as traffic stops or calls for service. Those cards will include QR codes that lead to a one-minute survey and a space for comments.
Administrators and supervisors are able to view the ratings and feedback, and may look at body camera footage to see how police officers are engaging with citizens in order to make adjustments, Kochis said.
Kochis said the department intends to apply for grants from the Virginia Risk Sharing Association to fund the pilot program.
Guardian Score was first implemented in Warrenton in November 2021 under Kochis’ leadership there before he became Charlottesville’s police chief. Since the department began using the tool, interactions between Warrenton police officers and residents became more personal, less transactional and less robotic, Kochis said.
Warrenton was the first city to use Guardian Score, according to Burke Brownfeld, co-founder of the product and a former Virginia police officer himself. Around a dozen cities and campuses across the country have implemented it since, with an additional two or three expected to begin this fall.
“The inspiration for making the tool was this idea of, how can we help police leaders better use community feedback to measure really important skills like procedural justice skills, and turn that into meaningful and actionable data for making decisions,” Brownfeld told The Daily Progress.
The survey follows academic research on procedural justice that says citizens care more about how they were treated by police officers than what the outcome of the interaction was, Brownfeld said. Feedback from the surveys has shown just that, with responses speaking highly of officers even after having been handed a speeding ticket.
“How officers treat people matters ultimately so much more than whatever that outcome is,” Brownfeld said. “Whether the outcome was positive or negative or you went to jail or didn’t go to jail. That is not really the deciding factor on how people view that individual interaction.”
In Charlottesville, Kochis said he thinks Guardian Score is going to show officers’ empathy when interacting with folks, something he sees when he watches body cam footage almost every morning.
“I think it’s going to show the great work that our officers go out there and do each and every day, and it’s going to show how much they care about this community,” Kochis said.
Brownfeld said he hopes the tool will help bring light to the “blind spot” of interactions between police officers and civilians, referring to the “boring, innocuous, regular” interactions between law enforcement and the public. Those include changing a tire or helping a lost tourist, rather than the arrests and traffic tickets people tend to associate with the police.
Guardian Score is “bringing data into the fold of something that previously we never had data on, which is just the day to day human interactions between the police and the public,” Brownfeld said.
For too long, a “good police officer” was defined as someone who wrote a lot of tickets and made a lot of arrests, Kochis said. “That’s not necessarily the measure we want to use.”
Instead, the police department is shifting its focus to relational policing: treating people with empathy, identifying next steps and explaining “the why,” such as why an officer pulled someone over.
“We struggled as a profession on how to measure that,” Kochis said. “And so this is one way of doing it.”