Mason Criminologists Help Police Improve Crime Fighting Tactics Through Research

Posted: November 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm, Last Updated: November 29, 2012 at 11:34 am

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By James Greif

Mason’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) has worked closely with criminologists and police around the country to develop policing practices founded in tested research. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Mason’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society has trained criminologists and police officers around the world, so it is no wonder that police departments turn to Mason when trying to improve their law enforcement activities through research.

Since its founding in 2008, the department’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) has established itself as a leading resource for police departments. In support of these activities, the department recently received two major grants to study crime at “hot spots,” small areas where crime is concentrated.

Distinguished professor and center director David Weisburd and assistant professor Brian Lawton received $3 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a prospective longitudinal study of health and social problems in drug hot spots in the City of Baltimore.

Cynthia Lum, deputy director of the CEBCP, speaks at a symposium hosted by the center. Photo by Alexis Glenn

“Drug abuse and its impact on communities in Baltimore are major concerns for the community, and examining these issues will develop much new ground in the intersection of crime, places and public health,” says Weisburd.

In addition, Weisburd and senior research associate Charlotte Gill helped the City of Seattle win a nearly $1 million Bureau of Justice grant, and they will lead the evaluation of a community-led intervention program related to juvenile crime hot spots.

Seattle’s police department has a long-standing relationship with Mason criminologists that began in 2001 when Weisburd and professor and center deputy director Cynthia Lum found that less than 5 percent of all of the 29,849 street segments accounted for about 50 percent of the city’s crime. Further, this concentration of crime had remained stable over a long period of time.

David Weisburd, director of CEBCP, listens as Lum speaks at a conference. Creative Services photo

Lum returned to Seattle in 2011 to present to the City Council and community members research about the effectiveness of focusing resources on crime places and evidence-based policing. Since then, many exchanges have taken place between Seattle and Mason.

Gill also recently led an evidence assessment of Seattle’s crime prevention programs to help the city focus time, money and energy on the programs that show positive crime fighting and prevention results.

Seattle police are also implementing some policy changes based on associate professor Christopher Koper’s research. Koper’s work on hot spots patrol led to the “Koper Curve” principle, which indicates that police can optimize patrols by having officers make periodic stops in hot spots for short time periods (12–16 minutes). Rigorous tests by police departments in experimental studies show that this method of directed patrol reduces crime.

Christopher Koper, a member of the CEBCP staff who developed the “Koper Curve,” which says that police can optimize patrols by having officers make periodic stops in hot spots for short time periods. Photo by Alexis Glenn

“This strategy provides a method for agencies to spread their resources around numerous hot spots and also provides a way for officers to conduct hot spots patrol in between calls for service,” says Koper.

Police departments in Sacramento, Minneapolis and the United Kingdom, as well as departments in Alexandria and Fairfax County, Va., are also implementing policing programs based on these and other findings by policing scholars at Mason, including professors Steve Mastrofski and James Willis.

In addition, police departments in Arlington, Prince William County, Leesburg and Richmond in Virginia; Baltimore County and the City of Baltimore in Maryland; and Washington, D.C., have benefited from collaborations with the center.

“Much of our work is trying to empower the police to use research in their daily work and create their own capacity for evidence-based policing, research and analysis,” says Lum. “Through these exchanges, we also have the opportunity to learn a great deal from the police about when and what research is useful to them, how to exchange information between researchers and practitioners and what is realistic and possible in law enforcement.”

The department’s collaborative research approach has been noticed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Last year, Lum received the Attorney General’s Citizen Volunteer Service Award from the department’s Office of Justice Programs. Laurie Robinson, who had served as the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, joined Mason and CEBCP as a distinguished Robinson Professor. She and other policing scholars at Mason have formed a partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation to improve research and knowledge exchange in policing.

While the department receives funding from many sources for its research activities, faculty often work with police departments on a pro bono basis. “We invest in police departments, not only because of funding but because we believe important advances can be made,” says Lum.

One of the best results of this investment is the center’s Evidence-Based Policing Matrix, which catalogs and organizes police crime control research. This easy-to-use and free online tool provides law enforcement with information and advanced training related to evidence-based policing. And Mason’s scholars provide program evaluation and advice to police agencies around the world through websites, workshops and conferences.

“The Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy is committed to cutting-edge scientific research in the service of public policies,” Weisburd says. “We think this is key to advancing criminology as a discipline and advancing criminal justice practices and policies. We are proud of our achievements to date and look forward to continuing our work with police departments in the U.S. and abroad.”

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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