Saginaw Police Department and Criminal Justice Researchers Partner On Front Porch Roll Calls Program

August 2, 2023 - JJ Thomas

With the help of a team of researchers from the School of Criminal Justice at MSU, the Saginaw Police Department (SPD) is working to improve community relations and increase transparency by holding regular “Front Porch Roll Calls” to engage local communities impacted by high rates of crime.  

Police Departments hold “Roll Calls” at the start of every shift to discuss recently reported crimes, procedural changes and review the priorities for the upcoming shift. Traditionally Roll Calls are held inside the police station and are not attended by the public. 

The Saginaw Police Department has decided to change its approach to Roll Calls by holding regular Front Porch Roll Call meetings that take place within the community and are open for the public to attend. By holding Front Porch Roll Calls in public spaces such as a resident’s driveway or porch, the SPD hopes to increase transparency with the community and invite community members into the department’s day-to-day activities.  

A bonus to this initiative is that the police department receives public feedback in real-time, including information about crime problems ongoing in the neighborhood. 

Travis Carter, a Doctoral Student in the School of Criminal Justice, says "This dynamic approach is foundational to community-oriented policing because it helps initiate and sustain police-citizen collaboration, which is key to solving local crime problems."

During the Front Porch Roll Calls, residents are encouraged to participate, speak freely, and share their thoughts. By actively engaging the local community, the Saginaw Police Department hopes to build stronger relationships with the citizens they serve.   

Dr. Scott Wolfe and Travis Carter the lead researchers on this study say that the data suggests that Front Porch Roll Calls are an effective method for law enforcement agencies to engage the public and build trust.  

“Our survey data suggest that citizens who attended SPD’s Front Porch Roll Calls appreciated the opportunity to discuss neighborhood problems with their local officers and take part in a collaborative process toward identifying solutions to those issues,” Wolfe said.  

Wolfe also added, residents in the communities where Front Porch Roll Calls took place expressed increased appreciation for the work the officers serving their communities do. Residents also reported that they felt officers were respectful, held similar values to the communities they served, and cared about their community. Community members were more likely to cooperate with the police after attending a Front Porch Roll Call - an important factor in preventing community violence. 

The Saginaw Police Department partnered with residents, businesses, and organizations to serve as community sponsors to spread the word and increase attendance at the meetings.

Another key insight from the Front Porch Roll Calls initiative is that the most productive conversations with the public occurred after the meetings ended. Police departments looking to implement similar programs will need to allow extra time in the schedules of the officers attending to get the most valuable information from the public.

"Our field observations revealed that the FPRC served as an 'icebreaker' for Saginaw residents. Hosting these roll calls partially lifts the blue curtain associated with law enforcement by showing them what it is that their police officers do in their community and the problems they face. By enhancing agency transparency, citizens and police officers were better equipped to have real conversations about how to work together to solve crime problems" said Carter.

Preventing future community violence is a shared goal of police departments and the communities they serve. Researchers hope other police agencies will leverage the insights from this partnership between MSU and the Saginaw Police Department when implementing their version of the Front Porch Roll Calls program.