Focus groups inconclusive

DALLAS — Focus groups evaluating plans to build an all-in-one public safety building in Dallas didn’t provide much insight into how voters would respond if the Dallas City Council put the proposal on the ballot.

Campbell DeLong Resources Inc. conducted two focus groups on Nov. 4 with 23 people participating. The firm used surveys to recruit candidates for participation to ensure a random sample of residents.

DeLong said the participants varied in age, how long they’ve lived in town and in what part of the city. They had to be registered voters who have voted in presidential elections.

“What we wanted to do is get those people who are really like the vast majority of the voters in any town who don’t spend a lot of time working on city politics, but their support will be key if you want to pass a bond measure,” she said.

The city has considered remodeling and adding onto the fire station on Shelton Avenue to accommodate police and fire and EMS in one building. The cost estimate on that is about $14 million.

DeLong said initial support for the proposal was “soft,” with about a quarter of the people in the two groups responding with a “definitely yes.” A little more than a quarter “leaned” toward yes. Another quarter “leaned no” or gave “definitely no” responses, and 18 percent gave “don’t know” as an answer.

“What this tells me is that in order to pass something like what we had just described, you would need to get information out there,” DeLong said.

She said after the initial explanation of the proposal, the groups were given more information about the police, fire and EMS stations and why the upgrade is needed to gauge what resonated with participants. Even after more detailed overviews of conditions in the three buildings were provided, support for putting a $14 million bond on the ballot was mixed.

DeLong said the majority of one focus group said no while the most of the second said yes.

“I would not even have a projection based on this. It could pass, it could not” she said. “It depends on the information you get out to people, whether you are able to reach them, whether they hear what it is you are going to do.”

DeLong said the groups had strong opinions on a few of the issues the departments deal with in their current facilities.

She said people in the groups were concerned when they learned the fire department didn’t have sleeping facilities or 24-hour coverage from the station.

Another of top concerns was that the fire, police and ambulance stations don’t have adequate locker rooms for women, who make up a growing part of all three departments. Also of concern was that the police department didn’t have enough private interview rooms.

Participants weren’t convinced of the benefit of having all departments housed in one building or of providing space for training. Cramped conditions for police — which is spread out in different floors and sections of City Hall — didn’t register high as a concern, either.

DeLong said the cost of the measure matter most to those who said they would vote no on the proposal; however, people did say they wanted reassurance that the city had considered other solutions and worried about cost overruns.

The second step in the research process is to conduct a phone survey with 200 residents to provide a better sample size and offer insight into which pitches work with voters. The cost of the survey is $18,000. Not all councilors were convinced of the usefulness of phone interviews given the focus group results.

“What I got from the presentation was we’re wanting a state-of-the-art facility with everything combined, and that wasn’t relevant at all to the focus groups,” said Councilor Jennie Rummell. “To me, it says we need to really rethink what we are doing for facilities. People are really concerned about updating them and making sure that everyone has what they need, but they didn’t think we needed one big facility.”

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