The Justice Department is about to take a closer look at why some cities have better records than others in fighting crime.
Some of the more successful cities pair academics with the local police to develop crime prevention strategies together. That's been especially true for the Cincinnati Police Department, where an unusually close relationship with local criminologists is credited with helping it take some repeat offenders off the streets.
Initiative To Reduce Violence
Just three years ago, crime was running rampant in Cincinnati, and homicides had reached a record high. But researchers suggested that a very small number of criminals were responsible for a large number of those crimes.
University of Cincinnati researchers partnered with police and decided to try something new: the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence. Hundreds of known felons would be required to appear at the Hamilton County Courthouse to hear this message: The violence must stop, or all gang members would be held responsible.
Donte Ingram, 28, was on probation and still dealing drugs when he was ordered to attend that meeting. While there, he ignored the police threats, but did pay attention to offers of help through education and employment. Some weeks later, he called the number he received at the courthouse.
Experts say that while other cities have academic-police department relationships, few closely share information. University of Cincinnati researcher Robin Engel and her doctoral students gather information on criminal activity, including local gang-related violence, and repackage it in a more useable form.
"I do not know any researcher in the country — in the world for that matter — that has full, unfettered access to data within a police department," Engel says. "I really think that is unique."
The program is based on a concept that David Kennedy first applied in Boston back in 1996. Kennedy, who now works at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, thinks Cincinnati is doing everything right.
"Nobody is moving the ball along the way Cincinnati is," Kennedy says. "Every single quarter, let's say, they are adding a new and operational element to what they are doing."
Information from University of Cincinnati researchers also helps in day-to-day patrols. In a weekly meeting with police captains, Engel points to graphs indicating a spike in robberies. Police captains then share that information with their officers working the streets.
Assistant Police Chief Vince Demasi leads the meetings and says he thinks the partnership is getting results.
"The more transparent an agency, the better community relations that we have," says Demasi. "People can really, truly understand what you're doing and why you are doing it."
The Justice Department will fund research to determine which academic-police partnerships have been successful, and whether they can be exported to other cities. But Georgia police researcher Mike Smith thinks Cincinnati's model may be difficult to fully replicate.
"The difficulty with sort of transporting it other places is that you have to have a police agency that is willing to open itself up to an outside researcher, and you have to have a researcher that has both the skills — academic and personal — to make it work," Smith says.
Ingram, the former drug dealer, now touts Cincinnati's approach. He works for the city as a street advocate and is convinced he'll stay out of trouble.
"I wouldn't go back for nothing," Ingram says. "The worst thing I have to worry about [now] is if I've got my seat belt on or not."