NYPD pulling the plug on 'Sentiment Meter,' official says

August 16, 2020
Anthony M. DeStefano

The New York Police Department is pulling the plug on the “Sentiment Meter,” a multimillion-dollar smartphone polling project used to gauge public reaction to officers and attitudes about safety in the Big Apple, a police official said.

A brainchild of the Brooklyn company ELUCD, the polling methodology was underway by 2017 and pinged about 7,500 smartphones each month to determine how members of the public felt about the job the NYPD was doing. 

But local commanders, according to police officials, struggled to understand how they could use the polling results at the sector and precinct levels.

“It was just not the right tool for us," said department spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie. "We have given it a hard look and decided not to continue." The current contract with ELUCD will run out on Sept. 30, she said.

The move comes as police departments — including the NYPD — are under tight scrunity following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis that led to anti-police and anti-brutality protests in the city and across the nation.

ELUCD issued a statement saying that the meter is an important tool to measure trust in the police.

"We’re disappointed to be ending our current relationship with the NYPD at this critical time, but are hopeful that the more than 250,000 New Yorkers who lent their voices in surveys, sharing their concerns and feedback, will see real, tangible change," the vendor said.

From January through September of this year, the NYPD had a contract to pay ELUCD up to $4.2 million, with $1 million paid out so far, police officials said. By canceling the contract at a time of fiscal restraint within the department, the NYPD was saving $3.1 million, a senior official said.

The smartphone responses where ranked by users on a numerical scale, with lower numbers being less favorable and higher numbers more favorable. The scores were translated by the NYPD into numerical values ranging from 50 to 80 and shared with precinct and borough commanders at CompStat meetings. The trust score jumped from 61 to about 67.5 while perception of safety appeared more volatile, starting at 65 in September 2016 and last registering about 63 in March, figures released by the NYPD on Friday show. 

The NYPD is exploring more traditional methods to gauge public satisfaction, a police official said. 

Joo-Hyun Kang, director of the police watchdog group Communities United for Police Reform, said the NYPD should find better use for the money.

"The NYPD shouldn't need a poll to recognize that their daily abuse of Black, Latinx and other New Yorkers of color, makes no one safer," Kang said. "Instead of wasting additional taxpayer monies to change a survey that the NYPD shouldn't control, the NYPD's outsized budget should be cut and redirected to Black, Latinx and other communities of color whose health and safety have been most devastated during COVID-19, the economic crisis and rampant police violence and abuse of authority."

Prof. Eugene O'Connell, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it is no surprise that the NYPD pulled the contract at a time when certain violent crime is on the rise, the public is feeling more unsafe and police are under siege from critics.

 "The perception of good will has evaporated," he said.