Safety survey results revealed at Westminster council meeting

Chris Battles, a member of the City of Westminster's Public Safety Advisory Council, presents the results of a survey aimed at gauging residents' safety concerns to the city council and public at a bimonthly Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, Aug. 27.
Chris Battles, a member of the City of Westminster's Public Safety Advisory Council, presents the results of a survey aimed at gauging residents' safety concerns to the city council and public at a bimonthly Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, Aug. 27. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

Westminster residents feel safest at home during the day and least safe when they visit downtown at night, survey results presented at the Mayor and Common Council meeting Monday, Aug. 27, revealed.

The city’s Public Safety Advisory Council, composed of residents and a Common Council member, conducted a survey in May that aimed to gauge residents’ perceived safety.


Nearly 1,300 people, the majority of whom live in the city, responded to the month-long survey that was promoted on social media, newspaper advertisements, the city website and newsletters attached to city water bills. Almost 72 percent of survey respondents were women, and about 50 percent were between the ages of 46 and 65.

The vast majority of those who participated had lived in the city for more than 10 years, said Chris Battles, the safety committee member who presented survey results Monday. The biggest response occurred after the after the public safety council convinced schools within city limits to send out emails to parents, Battles added.

Recent examples of high-profile crimes, including shootings, in the City of Westminster prompted residents to raise their concerns publicly on multiple occasions. But Westminster police statistics show that serious crime is decreasing, apart from a few outliers.

The response rate far exceeded the “380 participants needed to provide 95 percent confidence that results are in five percent of being representative of the entire population,” according to the presentation.

Council lauded the safety committee’s efforts, thanking the volunteer committee for their hard work in crafting and carrying out the survey, which ended up costing $300.

City Councilman Tony Chiavacci, council liaison to the predominantly citizen-run safety committee, said he and his safety committee colleagues were impressed by the response.

“I thought that by-and-large the results were positive,” Chiavacci told the Times. “I wasn’t really sure what we were going to see.”


More than 95 percent of respondents specified that they felt safe “always” or “most of the time” at home during the day, according to the presentation. Respondents detailed that they felt marginally less safe as they distanced themselves from home. About 83 percent said they felt safe “always” or “most of the time” during the day in downtown or other public areas.

Respondents signified they felt less safe at night regardless of location — “at home,” “alone in neighborhood” or “downtown, public spaces.”

The biggest discrepancy of perceived safety during the day compared to at night was in downtown and public spaces. More than 83 percent of respondents answered that they felt safe “always” or “most of the time” during the day when they were in downtown Westminster or another public venue.

That number decreased 35 percentage points, to approximately 47 percent, at night.

When analyzed across demographics like gender, age and residence relative to the city, not one marker stood out as statistically significant, said Battles, the safety committee’s data guru.

Two officers from the Westminster Police Department met with residents from The Greens community Thursday after a string of auto thefts and increasing concerns about crime. The officers listened to the community's concerns, fielded questions and offered advice.

Robert Wack, the Common Council president, suggested that the safety committee compare the data to other communities of comparable size — to benchmark Westminster residents’ concerns.

“There’s still room for improvement,” said Chiavacci, despite being optimistic about the results.

In an era where misinformation proliferates on social media and the internet, he said, it’s especially important for the city and its police department to communicate promptly with the community.

“When you look at the crime statistics it’s apparent that crime is low … but not everybody really knows that,” Chiavacci said. “Some people probably have a misconception that crime might be a little more prevalent than what it is.”

Council talked about the perception of safety versus the reality of crime statistics, which show that serious crime decreased over the first seven months of the year.

Part 1 Crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft, among other offenses, decreased more than 25 percent from 2013 through 2017, Westminster Police Department statistics show.

“I’ve always argued that safety is perceptive,” Councilwoman Mona Becker said. “I think the discussion from the council is how we can use data from the city to change the perception that the city is not safe.”

“What some people could perceive as a safety concern might not be illegal,” Councilman Gregory Pecoraro said. “That’s something we need to talk to our community with, because the police can’t just move people” because it makes others feel uncomfortable.

The answer could be better communication, council members speculated. And the 14-question survey did ask for participants to select preferred methods of communication for the city to utilize.

Survey respondents chose Facebook and the City of Westminster’s website as their favored modes of communication.

At the last city council meeting on Aug. 13, Chris Bartosik, of East Green Street, said that on multiple occasions he had trouble finding information about crimes he knew had happened.

After one of the July shooting incidents on Green Street, Bartosik said, “I tried to get the information for my neighbors, I pulled up the [Westminster] police department’s website, the media release portion of it, unfortunately the last release was from 2013.”

“It made me upset, that’s why I did a little more investigating, the link for the police department on the [department’s] Facebook page is wrong, it’s a dead link,” he added.

The media release portion of the police department website has since been upgraded, the latest release dated Aug. 24. However, a dead link remains on the Facebook page.

“There’s no question we could do a better job of that,” Chiavacci said, citing Bartosik’s comments at the last council meeting. “We have not been doing a good enough job updating things on certain websites.”

The lawmaker added: “That’s a good example of where we can do better a better job there.”

The public safety council unanimously expressed a desire to continue the survey — tracking public safety concerns longitudinally could be of great benefit, they said.