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Eric Piza is Bringing the Data on Police Reform

Police reform is everywhere in the news, and everyone has a different perspective on the issue, from activists to police practitioners to politicians. John Jay Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Eric Piza is a former crime analyst who studies both police reforms — like the impact of body-worn cameras on police effectives — and the manner in which those reforms are undertaken. He emphasizes the importance of program evaluation in the area of police reform: “Far too often, people talk about implementing specific reforms without acknowledging whether or not we have a sufficient evidence base to know whether those reforms will bring about the intended effects.”

But who is best-positioned to evaluate the changes police agencies are making and help them institute the reforms that are best-suited to meet police and community goals? Piza recently published a study in peer reviewed journal Policing that explored ways police departments can employ their own personnel to evaluate reforms, bringing a greater sense of ownership and, perhaps, generating greater willingness to embrace change. With his co-authors, CUNY Ph.D. candidates in criminal justice Jason Szkola and Kwan-Lamar Blount-Hill, Piza took a look at the roles three different types of police evaluators can play in police-led scientific reform.

(The article is “How Can Embedded Criminologists, Police Pracademics, and Crime Analysts Help Increase Police-Led Program Evaluations? A Survey of Authors Cited in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix.” Click to access the full article.)

Police-led science, or science-led policing?

While program evaluation — or, the empirical evaluation of programs’ effectiveness — has typically been considered the purview of academics looking in on police practice from the outside, Piza argues that police-led evaluation of reform leads to greater ownership of new practice. “If police can play a role in generating and conducting research, I think it’s just human nature that they’d be a little more open to its implementation, because they were part of the process. They probably also have more understanding of what the research means [than academics]. That will help generate support from the police to implement the kind of reforms that are necessary,” says Piza.

But conducting empirical research requires training that not all police practitioners have. Piza and his co-authors looked at three types of analysts working from within the police apparatus — embedded criminologists, police pracademics, and crime analysts — to find out the roles each can play in strengthening police-led reform. To do so, the authors carried out a survey of criminal justice scholars working in the area of evidence-based policing. They asked three research questions: what factors make successfully evaluating police practices difficult; how easily can each of the three types of “internal analysts” be incorporated into police program evaluation activities; and how capable is each type of analyst of conducting program evaluation tasks?

In the end, their results showed that each of the three has a role to play. “The best way is to leverage them together, because they’re all going to give different benefits. Embedded criminologists, who are typically Ph.D.-level researchers, they’re going to do the best job of designing research and program evaluations, but that’s only step one in getting reform through,” says Piza. “Research results have to be communicated to the leadership in a language that actually makes sense to them. When changes are made based upon those research results, someone has to monitor the new state of affairs and make sure the police are doing what they claim to be doing. Crime analysts and police pracademics are probably more important than embedded criminologists when we get to that phase of the process.”

Prompting change

Piza is optimistic that police departments will be receptive to calls for reform from community leaders and activists. As the community shifts the focus in conversations about reform, he hopes to see police apply the same openness they showed to adopting crime control reforms to future proposed changes.

“Police have been willing to experiment with new strategies and to rethink their mission. The last couple of years have reminded us that crime control and prevention is only one goal of policing. Limiting use of force, improving police-community relations and perceptions of police legitimacy, these are also very important goals of policing. I think the community reminding the field of that is going to be very important.”

The future of policing

Dr. Piza has his eye on the future of effective policing, with two books on the subject forthcoming. The first is a handbook that walks crime analysts through a transition to the next generation of a popular crime mapping software, ArcGIS Pro. Rather than just a standard software manual, Piza describes the book as using a variety of case studies and empirical research to help analysts think about how to apply the new version of the technology to solving the real-world problems they encounter every day.

The second, which Piza is co-editing with Brandon Welsh (Northeastern University), will feature chapters by international experts on various programs that assist police in integrating practice and research; he and Welsh will contribute a chapter on technology. While the United States may be going through unique policing challenges at the moment, Piza sees commonalities that will make the volume, to be titled The Globalization of Evidence-Based Policing, useful to practitioners and academics around the world. “Even if the problems and outcomes of interest are different,” he says, “everyone struggles with the basic premise of having 30 to 40 years of really good, rigorous policing research, and how we can get the police to better engage with that body of research.”

Piza is also influencing the future of policing research in another way: many of his articles are co-authored with Ph.D. students from CUNY’s own criminal justice program, just as the Policing article was. Piza says their passion for the field helps him to stay present and remember the bigger impact studies like his can have on real people and real communities. “They bring a level of rigor and passion,” Piza says of his graduate student collaborators. “It’s easy to become jaded in this field, especially with the current environment, so it’s been helpful to surround myself with students who are passionate about these topics. They are always there to remind me why this is bigger than myself.”

 

Eric Piza, from the chest up, wearing a blue suit jacket and standing in front of a row of glass doorsEric Piza is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His research focuses on the spatial analysis of crime patterns, problem-oriented policing, crime control technology, and the integration of academic research and police practice. His recent research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Criminology, Criminology & Public Policy, Crime & Delinquency, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Justice Quarterly and more. In support of his research, Dr. Piza has secured over $2.2 million in outside research grants, including funding from the National Institute of Justice. In 2017, he was the recipient of the American Society of Criminology, Division of Policing’s Early Career Award in recognition of outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of policing.

Watch a Faculty Research Spotlight interview with Dr. Piza on John Jay’s YouTube channel.

Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff – Data Science for Justice

Phil Goff speaks at TED2019
Phillip Atiba Goff speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

On April 16, 2019, John Jay College’s Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff spoke at Session 4 of TED2019 in Vancouver. The program featured eight speakers representing eight projects that are receiving funding from The Audacious Project in 2019. Dr. Goff spoke on behalf of his independent non-profit organization, the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), which was one of this year’s Audacious Projects.

CPE focuses on addressing racism in the United States. According to Dr. Goff, “When we change the definition of racism from attitudes to behaviors, we transform that problem from impossible to solvable.” CPE’s project, COMPSTAT for Justice, is a database leveraging data collected from police departments and cities on police behavior in an effort to identify problem areas where specific police behaviors can change.

With the support of The Audacious Project, CPE wants to extend the results it’s already seen with partners adopting COMPSTAT for Justice, by delivering the project to police departments serving 100 million people across the United States over the next five years.

To hear Dr. Goff’s TED Talk, visit the @TEDTalks Twitter page, where the link to the livestream is still up. You can read more about Session 4 of TED2019 on the TEDBlog.

Civilian oversight, policing research, and open data: Beginning a new public conversation

Civilian oversight, policing research, and open data: Beginning a new public conversation

Our latest blog entry comes from Dan Stageman, Director of Research Operations for the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College.

Blog entry by: Dan Stageman, 4/19/2016

In February of 2015, the National Association for the Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) held its first academic symposium in partnership with Seattle University. The event – held in the wake of the police-civilian conflict that erupted following the Ferguson verdict, and coinciding a scheduled Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Seattle – was entitled Moving Beyond Discipline: The Role of Civilians in Police Accountability.

This Friday, April 22nd, John Jay College will host NACOLE’s second academic symposium, in the context of the ensuing year of national discourse on police-community relations. The title for this new symposium – Building Public Trust: Generating Evidence to Enhance Police Accountability and Legitimacy – speaks to the nature of how this conversation has evolved in the nearly 18 months since the Ferguson verdict. As the visceral anger and destructive unrest that accompanied those initial protests in Missouri has cooled, the Black Lives Matter movement has coalesced into a social, cultural, and political force to be reckoned with. An initially forceful counter-protest movement, which attempted to connect the ‘Ferguson Effect’ of ubiquitous public surveillance and perceived hostility toward law enforcement with an apparent rise in violent crime and homicide rates in cities across the country, has dwindled to a background murmur.

Perhaps most important for the criminal justice scholarly community, law enforcement policy-makers have begun to listen to the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and allied advocacy organizations  – and to respond in ways that push the conversation forward. Many of these responses have the potential to bring fundamental changes to the practice of law enforcement, the philosophy of policing, and – in the long term – the culture that makes many American law enforcement agencies so resistant to change.

The starting point for many of the constructive policy responses to the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement is the Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, to which both NACOLE staff and John Jay College faculty made a number of important contributions. This week’s academic symposium takes as a particular focus the Report’s Action Item 1.3.1:

To embrace a culture of transparency, law enforcement agencies should make all department policies available for public review and regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics. (13)

One year after the Report’s release, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this action item, or the impact that it has already had on departmental policies in major city law enforcement agencies across the country. Analyses like those produced by John Jay’s Misdemeanor Justice Project – on many years of misdemeanor arrests, summonses, and enforcement rates in NYC – would not have been possible without data shared by the NYPD. Commissioner William Bratton’s continued support for the project – even as he occasionally takes issue with its findings – perhaps speaks as much to a shift in open-data policy nationwide as it does to philosophical differences between Bratton and his predecessor, Raymond W. Kelly.

For as much as major law enforcement agencies have themselves engendered a shift toward making publicly available important data on law enforcement activity, a more important driver of openness appears in the Task Force Report’s Recommendation 2.8:

Some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement is important in order to strengthen trust with the community. Every community should define the appropriate form and structure of civilian oversight to meet the needs of that community. (26)

Civilian oversight in NYC took a giant step forward with Local Law 70 and the formation of the NYPD Office of the Inspector General in 2013. Appointed to the post in March of 2014, Philip K. Eure (who serves as committee co-chair for the NACOLE Symposium) has approached data-sharing and evidence-based assessment as one of the core functions of his office, pushing the NYPD on its use of litigation data in one of its first official reports.

This push for open data, in response to the concerns raised by recent protest movements and advocacy efforts, is an effort well-suited to the agencies tasked with formal civilian oversight of law enforcement; the question of what to do with this data once it is shared with the public is one that research scholars need to answer. In the hands of social scientists, open data can be transformed into a staggering number of genuinely useful tools: algorithms for predicting potential police misconduct, a relational database and typology for analyzing departmental trends in use of force, or a process-oriented framework for designing the roll-out of a major urban police department’s body-worn camera policy.

All of these tools will be featured, in presentations from the researchers who designed them, at Friday’s Symposium. The conversations that follow – led by leading oversight professionals, and including an audience of academics, policymakers, funders, law enforcement practitioners, and members of the public – should provide an open forum that pushes these researchers to refine their work and better respond to the needs of the communities whose advocacy helped make them possible.

Ultimately, however, these partnerships and the tools to which they give rise are only one link in a chain that should end with the general public. True transparency is about communicating the workings of formerly opaque institutions to the public those institutions are ostensibly intended to serve. Transparency in law enforcement should strive to correct the informational imbalance between the police and highly-policed communities – an imbalance that allows an arresting officer to pull up the intimate details of a suspect’s life on a computer screen with the touch of a button, but prevents community members from knowing the realities of, and the rationales for, the manner in which they are policed.

Both scholars and oversight agencies are often ill-suited to make the final connections that communicate their vital work to the publics – particularly highly-policed communities – they mean to benefit. The vital role for journalists in disseminating the evidence-base that these researchers are working to build cannot be overstated. Resources like The Crime Report’s media toolkits and Guggenheim Fellowships, that support evidence-based criminal justice journalism, make it possible for journalists to better communicate the meaning of publicly available data to a public that might not have the expertise to digest this data directly.

Choosing sides: Militarization, murder, and mixed-metaphor in the “War on Crime”

Choosing sides: Militarization, murder, and mixed-metaphor in the “War on Crime”

This is the second in a series of blog entries from Research Operations Director Daniel Stageman, tying current research, upcoming events, and public scholarship from John Jay College faculty and staff to the contemporary conversation around criminal justice reform.

I had an intense sense of operating on the boundary of legitimate and illegitimate behavior. Clearly much of the activity itself was illegal, although reporting it would never have resulted in it being defined as “criminal.” …I felt at ease and in some ways defiant. …I realize that in a sense I am basking in the security of my temporary status as a beneficiary of state-sanctioned use of force.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               (Kraska, 2001)

Radley Balko includes this description, of Peter Kraska’s involuntary response to the experience of participating in informal (and questionably legal) SWAT Team training, in his 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. For Kraska and Balko alike, the excerpt is intended to “illustrate… the expansive and seductive powers … of a deeply embedded ideology of violence.” (Kraska, 2001)

It is no exaggeration to call Kraska the father of academic research on police militarization, his focus since 1989. His description above is an ethnographic one, a firsthand experience of a cultural milieu that he already knew well, certainly from a quantitative perspective. His capacity to be surprised by his own emotional response – essentially to the experience of target-shooting military-grade automatic weaponry, in the company of rural SWAT trainees wearing “Operation Ghetto Storm” t-shirts (Balko, pp 212-13) – gives the reader some sense of the breadth and depth, of cultural specificity and psychological motivation, hidden behind the confident conclusions of any statistical analysis, particularly those focusing on the practices, activities, and behaviors of law enforcement personnel.

Looked at in this context, FBI Director James Comey’s recent comments about the speculative phenomenon that has been labeled (unfortunately) “the Ferguson effect,” carry some disturbing implications: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns? …I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is surely a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.” (CNN, Oct 27)

What, exactly, is “the work that controls violent crime?” The evidence base of research designed to answer this question is extensive and constantly expanding; throw a dart at the CVs of our own Law and Police Science orCriminal Justice faculty, and your odds of hitting a useful crime control or crime prevention publication will be pretty good. Much of this literature falls under the “situational crime prevention” umbrella, which relies on disrupting the environmental factors and habitual behaviors that facilitate criminal activity. LPS faculty member (and 2015 Donal EJ MacNamara Award winner) Eric Piza’s 2012 ‘quasi-experiment’ on foot patrols in Newark is a solid example of applying this approach to police work. Its essential take-away: get police, lots of them, on foot, to patrol in geographically defined trouble spots. Studies like Piza’s often show significant reductions in index crimes like homicides, robberies, and assaults, with interventions that are this simple.

Piza’s study is also not unusual, however, in largely eliding the cultural and psychological experiences of the officers assigned to these foot patrols. While this is an issue of context rather than knowledge (Newark PD Lieutenant Brian A. O’Hara is Piza’s co-author) as the piece is a quantitative analysis rather than an ethnography, we can’t tie this simple crime control strategy to Comey’s comments without knowing something about it.

And we do know something about it, even absent direct description. We know what it isn’t. A foot patrol through a high-poverty urban neighborhood is not a no-knock raid patterned after a tactical military assault; it doesn’t involve dressing in helmets and body armor, carrying riot shields or assault rifles; it doesn’t come with backup from military assault vehicles, tear-gas grenade launchers, or ‘pain compliance’ devices – in a word, it is likely a far cry from the vision of police-work implied by the open display of “Operation Ghetto Storm” on the front of a t-shirt. In all likelihood, it involves a unique kind of vulnerability, requiring human interaction, speaking to community members outside of the harsh tones of compliance and arrest, looking neighborhood residents in the eye.

It is not difficult to see how the vocal and well-publicized protest and advocacy of highly-policed communities, who want to correct a perceived power imbalance with the law enforcement agencies that police them, could cause anxiety among those police officers who are primed to see the members of these communities as enemies. For officers who, like Kraska, are to some extent seduced by the exercise of power and the security of state-sanctioned use of force, this public demand for equity, this refusal to defer to superior force, throws into question what may be a visceral, emotional, or even involuntary aspect of their day-to-day motivation.

Why, though, should such a reassessment be described a “chill wind?” Isn’t it, instead, a necessary correction? If public safety is the mission of law enforcement, then enjoyment of the exercise of power is not an appropriate individual motivation – much less a cultural touchpoint – for the professional duties and demeanor necessary to its regular, successful function.

Radley Balko

Officers nationwide may indeed be “avoiding… informal contact” with the communities they serve, preferring the safety and anonymity of the patrol car to the visibility and vulnerability of walking a beat. If so, however – and particularly if this avoidance is correlated with rising crime rates in these communities – law enforcement leaders would do well to dedicate time and energy to the training needs that these avoidance behaviors expose. Equating community advocacy for equity and a fundamental rethink of the ways that law enforcement personnel engage with highly-policed communities to “a chill wind” – or suggesting that Black Lives Matter protesters “advocate for the murder of police officers” – flies in the face of the reality that assaults, murders, and even accidental deaths of law enforcement personnel are down significantly across 2014 and 2015.

In light of the importance of this ongoing conversation, we are lucky to be hosting Radley Balko for a John Jay Research Book Talk on Rise of the Warrior Cop thisThursday, November 5th, at 4.15pm in our main lecture hall (L.63NB). Mr. Balko has of late written consistently and forcefully in an effort to debunk the idea that Black Lives Matter and related protest movements amount to a “war on cops,” and we look forward to hearing his take on how the historical and ongoing militarization of US law enforcement ties into the current crisis. We are equally excited to get his thoughts on the future and solutions, and are happy to announce that Mr. Balko’s q&a with the John Jay community following his talk will be led by Steve Handelman, Director of the College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and editor of The Crime Report.

The next entry in this series will look forward to our April 22nd NACOLE Academic Symposium, with a discussion of the role civilian oversight can play in shaping law enforcement culture.

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