A recent survey of nearly 700 Littleton residents shows that crime has risen as a top concern for citizens — and that affordability as a reason for living in the city has dramatically declined over the past 10 years.
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The findings, presented during a city council meeting Aug. 23, come after questions were mailed randomly to 5,000 Littleton households, with a response of 688 between June and mid-July.
A second, online-only survey was also conducted and open to anyone. It received 128 responses and — unlike the mailed survey — offers purely qualitative data, though "affordability" and "cost of living" as well as "crime" and "homelessness" appear frequently throughout responses to a question about issues facing the city.
Jade Arocha, who works for a Boulder-based research institute and who partnered with the city to conduct the latest polling, said the mailed results should be seen as "the gold standard" for broadly gauging citizens' attitudes towards issues.
Arocha also noted that surveys tend to see fewer responses from renters, non-white residents and younger people.
Results from open-access surveys, like the web poll, typically come from "more civically engaged" residents, Arocha said.
"These are your folks that show up to your city council meetings ... or are in more contact with you," Arocha said. "It's a good insight into what those highly active residents think versus what a more random selection of residents think."
The results from the mailed survey show while a resounding majority of residents gave high marks for their overall quality of life in Littleton, concerns about crime and policing have increased.
Crime reduction rose to be the third most pressing issue for Littleton residents — with 31% saying it was in their top three issues — up 11 percentage points from 2020. The top two pressing issues in 2022 were traffic and street maintenance, though traffic saw a significant decrease as an issue from 61% in 2020 to 45% in 2022.
"It is noteworthy that the level of concern for crime reduction has increased," Arocha said, adding that other resident concerns have mostly remained the same compared with past surveys.
The 2022 survey found that, of a minority of respondents who had interactions with police in past year, most gave the department positive ratings. But marks for police employees' fairness, knowledge, helpfulness, timeliness and overall impression were all down from 2020.
Resident responses to their police department's ability to prevent crime were still more favorable in Littleton compared with the average sentiment for Front Range communities, Arocha said.
"Not only have we had a pandemic, we have also had a number of very highly publicized civil unrest cases across the nation," Arocha said. "So quite a few moving parts when it comes to what may be impacting resident perception."
Most crimes in the metro area increased last year compared to years prior, data shows, with a previous Colorado Community Media report finding violent crimes involving guns increased in Littleton in 2021.
Residents' perception of affordability, though it did not appear as a top three issue facing residents, did appear to decline in 2022 compared with years past.
According to mailed survey results, residents who put affordable cost of living as a reason for living in Littleton declined from 30% in 2012 to just 14% this year. Residents who put affordable housing and rental rates as a reason declined from 20% in 2012 to just 9% this year.
The polling comes amid a backdrop of less affordable housing "not just in Littleton, but elsewhere as well," Arocha said.
Other issues gauged by the survey included transportation, government performance and public services.
Some services, such as public parks, the Littleton Museum and Bemis Library, saw slight increases in their ratings from residents. Others, including downtown parking and traffic flow, continued to rank at the bottom.
Kelli Narde, the city's director of Cultural and Media Services, called council members' attention to the city's job on environmental stewardship, which saw a decrease of 10 percentage points from 2012. In the 2022 survey, 55% of respondents gave the city positive marks for its job on the issue.
"Your conversation is very pertinent, I think, of what people are thinking," Narde said.
Those results come as group of younger residents sitting on Littleton's Next Generation Advisory Council pushes the city to adopt a two-pronged environmental plan.
City Manager Jim Becklenberg said the overall survey results provide "additional context" for council members as they prepare for budget talks slated for Sept. 9.
"I think that probably helps to sharpen the overall focus of the project and make a difference on things that matter," Becklenberg said.
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