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Inside Criminal Justice

Verdict Still Out on Evidence-Based Crime-Fighting

April 25, 2012 04:53:00 am
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Photo by wallyg via Flickr

Official Washington is increasingly basing anti-crime policy on evidence-based solutions, but “I’m not sure we’re there yet,” Noah Bookbinder, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy’s main adviser on criminal justice issues, told the annual Jerry Lee Crime Prevention Symposium this week on Capitol Hill.

Bookbinder was one of seven speakers on a panel moderated by Laurie Robinson, until recently the Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney general for Justice Programs.

The other speakers generally agreed that tough economic times are prompting a new look at spending priorities at all government levels, and that scientific evidence of a program’s success or failure may play a part in whether it survives a budget cut.

One problem is that solid evidence is lacking on many anticrime programs, so there may be no good way of determining if they are worth funding.

Tim Burgess, a former police officer in Seattle who heads the committee overseeing public safety, said there have been good evaluations of only 4 of the 62 crime prevention programs in the city. Citizens are demanding more accountability, he said.

Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, predicted that national or regional economic difficulties would “dramatically change law enforcement in ways that would have been unthinkable” in past years.

He called for new ways for police to respond to non-emergency calls and he forecasts that some areas will adopt consolidated, regional police forces.

Budget cuts offer 'opportunity'

Bookbinder, the Senate staff member, said that reduced availability of federal aid for crime-fighting “presents a real opportunity to focus on programs that have showed results.”

The outlook is somewhat muddled, he said, because some members of Congress oppose any federal funding for state and local anti-crime projects.

Three criminologists on the panel—John Laub, director of the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, Lawrence W. Sherman of the University of Maryland and University of Cambridge, and David Weisburd of George Mason University—expressed some cautious optimism that criminal-justice practitioners would become better informed about useful research.

Laub was not confident that the volume of useful research would increase, observing that some “academics are writing more about more about less and less.”  

Earlier in the program, attendees heard about research results in several key criminal-justice areas.

Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel and Police Sgt. Renee Mitchell reported on a “hot spots” policing experiment that found both serious crime and calls for police service had declin ed in places where police officers visited crime “hot spots” for 12 to 16 minutes at various intervals.

Charlotte Gill of George Mason University talked about what research has shown about community-oriented policing: essentially it has had no significant impact on crime but has improved police “legitimacy” and citizen satisfaction.

Lawrence Sherman and Barak Ariel of the University of Cambridge reviewed the evidence on electronic monitoring of crime offenders, concluding that it has a positive but limited effect on re-offending. The various studies they looked it involved about 100,000 offenders who had been on electronic monitoring an average of 58 days.

The conference also heard from British Member of Parliament Nick Herbert, whose presentation can be seen here.

The Jerry Lee Symposium was sponsored by the Jerry Lee Center on Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, George Mason University, and the University of Cambridge.

Ted Gest is president of Crime and Justice Journalists, and Washington-based contributing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.

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Posted by Andy
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 06:45

I think that Mr Keith Geary, needs to look at his own political views and mnavittioos before commenting on other’s political views. And if they are politically motivated, it is because we have views that are not about the privatisation of education, and removing any local accountability from the local community and Council. The self-aggrandizing of a superhead , with the complicit approval of a Board of Governors who purport to act in the interest of the community, deserves to be questioned and challenged. Mr Jack Brown artist in residence at Tidemill School, and a Pro Academy Teacher explicitly said that the financial system were sound-this has been found to wanting in the light of recent developments, and me thinks, about the purely politically inspired comment Mr Keith Geary refers to when talking about the temporary withdrawal by the Board of Governors attempt to make Tidemill an Academy School. And academies are not a political issue? Mr Michael Gove thinks not!, there are political intentions. Big business is looking to get peice of the action! Do we want the Carpet Empire of Harris’ running our schools? I choose to think that there are larger forces at work other than Mr Keith Geary or Mr Mark Elms.I am also intrigued by Mr Keith Geary comment We know what the challenge is against the plans . What are they? In the interest of democracy? Is the new plan about waiting till the furore dies down and rushing it through, and hoping that no one notices?This was supposed to be a straightforward process, as we have had to hear on many occasions from Mr Mark Elms and Mr Keith Geary and their various voice-pieces.And for someone who knows I am perplexed at their inability to add up or at least check that the figures were true.

Posted by Erika McGinty
Thursday, April 26, 2012 11:58

I am surprised by some of the points made in this coverage. The Department of Homeland Security spends billions of dollars annually on local and state anti-terrorism, aka anti-crime, technology grants (of which Leahy of all people is well aware). This provides rich territory for research on what works in crime prevention the way it is increasingly practiced – through a range of surveillance devices and public-private, local-federal intelligence data sharing.

In addition to hot-spot policing, which has been widely shown effective, gun-crime deterrence strategy designed by John Jay professor David Kennedy has had successful results that have been replicated in multiple U.S. cities. Simply introducing more street lighting has not only diffused street crime but made people feel safer.

Claiming a lack of evidence seems to me even more bewildering given the amount of data on anti-recidivism efforts establishing several successful common denominators. Incidentally, electronic monitoring – not a shining example – illustrates that evaluations need to consider demographic factors: among populations such as juveniles, electronic monitoring has been counterproductive. In assessing the worth of efforts against repeat crime one needs to consider demographics.

By contrast, some crime prevention programs that have been overwhelmingly shown ineffective continue to be funded. The Adam Walsh Act, whose sex offender registration requirements and movement restrictions are being challenged by more and more local and state officials, was assigned an increase in federal funds to $20 million in 2012 from $9 million in 2011.

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