September 14, 2009

Update: Weed & Seed behind robo-calls about crime to city residents

Update: We talked with Tanya Canady, of the local Weed and Seed program, Tuesday morning about the phone survey. It was conducted by a UW-Milwaukee researcher, but not by the university itself. The researcher was working on a contract-basis with Weed and Seed.

The survey was conducted using the Racine Police Department's robo-call system, which is used to broadcast a pre-recorded message to residents in targeted areas. In this case, it was used to conduct a survey to evaluate Weed and Seed programs, Canady said.

The phone survey was part of several efforts by Weed and Seed to evaluate the effects of several local programs it funds including: Cops N Kids, gang diversion programs, truancy prevention programs, extended hours at community centers, and basketball leagues. (There are several more Weed and Seed-backed programs; Canady just gave us a few examples.)

Other tools used to evaluate programs include: a survey of high school students, observation of the programs at the Bryant and Tyler-Domer community centers, interviews with police officers and evaluation of crime data.

Canady said the phone survey may have been confusing to residents because they weren't familiar with the name "Weed and Seed," which is a federally funded program designed to address crime (weed) and support preventative programs (seed). She said she didn't have much control over the survey, and wishes it had more clearly stated who was conducting the survey and why they were doing it.

But she said the intention was good. "We evaluate our programs each year," Canady said. "We want to hear the voice of the people."

Here's a comment from another RacinePost reader on the survey:
I did answer the robocall but did feel rather annoyed that more contact or follow up info wasn't given at the end-- it did seem to not be as comprehensive as it could have been.
Original post: Some Downtown residents received robo-calls over the weekend seeking feedback on the "perception of safety" in their neighborhood.

An unidentified electronic caller contacted residents for a phone survey, according to a RacinePost reader. Here's what they wrote:
Today, Sunday, my husband and I received two (2) robot calls on our answering machine. Both claiming to be from the City of Racine and wanting our "perception of safety" in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is downtown, expanding out from Seventh (7th) Street, between Grand and Villa.

The recording repeated and then hung up.
NO call back number.
NO reference to a city department.
NO way to follow-up to give an opinion when returning and hearing message.
NO phone number to call during normal "business hours/days".
Why only on Sunday afternoon?
The phone survey appears tied to a UW-Milwaukee study, said City Administrator Tom Friedel. The Racine Police Department OK'd the calls for a study on the perception of crime, he said.

The survey seemed OK, our reader said, but there were a few problems. First, it was unclear who made the call and what the answers would be used for. Second, there was no call back number. The reader said they would have answered the questions, but only received a recording of the message on their answering machine.
We feel that the calls will result in misleading, capricious, arbitrary and unfounded data (responses). Why? Because many of us not home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
And, for the record, they wrote that they feel very safe in their Seventh Street neighborhood:
WE feel very safe.
WE do feel that there needs to be more businesses open.
WE would like to see more people walking, at all times of the day. And night.
WE'd like to see more people living, working and socializing in our neighborhood.
Especially building owners that live and work here. That will lead to greater security.
WE have seen changes in the neighborhood during the past 30 years - good and bad.
We're working on learning more about the UWM study (who paid for it?) and how it was approved. Hopefully we'll have an update tonight.


  1. And, once again, those of us with cell phones are not surveyed. I live on Main Street but don't have a land line - not to mention my cell has a Chicago area code.

  2. All that matters is "perception," anyway. Those in the "news" business know this very well.

    How long do we have to ignore our crime problem before it goes away?

  3. Tim the Shrubber9/14/2009 1:47 PM

    UWM does have the The Institute for Survey and Policy Research ( Of course, I see no memntion of Robo Surveys on their site.

  4. Interesting
    On Jones St this year we have had a murder and just last night a stabbing of course no news reporting on this. That's right we have no crime in Racine just art

  5. I was polled and I live near Elmwood Park.

  6. I thought Robo calls were illegal now?

  7. Tim the Shrubber9/15/2009 8:51 AM

    "I thought Robo calls were illegal now?"

    Well, I don't think an automated survey is legally considered the same thing as 'Robo Call'.

    I know that Survey Organizations are given exceptions to the Do Not Call List laws, so I would anticipate a similar exception for automated calls.

  8. Regarding crime in our so-called Lakeside Business District, the situation is regionally-notorious. I have friends from Chicago who'd love to visit our stores and restaurants. Even so, after they've heard about our gangs and the rough neighborhoods adjacent to our downtown, they spend their time and money in Cedarburg or Lake Geneva instead.

  9. That's too bad. I'm sure we can do a better job of covering up the crime in order to attract more out-of-town visitors.

  10. What I like is that Q.A. has not been to a watch meeting in over a year if not longer. When the 6th st group wanted to write a letter to Q.A. asking to please come or quit they where told you could not do that at a watch meeting because it was political. Interesting why then can KRM be pitched?
    Also one would think that Watch would think its critical to have Q.A. there or is Mr. French covering for Q.A.?