Embodying Evidence to Action: Tracking the Impact of Three Key NIJ Research Investments; Opening Plenary of the 2023 NIJ Research Conference
This plenary featured three significant areas of NIJ research investment that have had a tremendous impact on both the research community and the field of practice: advances in forensic DNA, police body armor standards, and place-based analyses of public safety. Each topic was explored by a collection of people representing the researcher, practitioner, policymaker, and advocacy perspectives, exploring how evidence generation resulted in changes that improved public safety and yielded more equitable criminal justice outcomes.
NANCY LA VIGNE: We're going to go into our first plenary, and the story behind this one is kind of interesting because a bunch of us at NIJ were sitting around a conference room table trying to figure out what should we lift up in a plenary session that aligns with the conference theme of Evidence to Action. And we couldn't land on any one thing because there were so many good ones, but no one topic, no one portfolio of research fully represented NIJ and who we are. I mean, after all, we do a lot of work in a lot of spaces. So, we didn't choose one, we chose three. And each one of these topics illustrates the value of research, NIJ's specific investment in the research, on topics that we know undeniably have moved the needle of policy and practice. Our first topic is on the role that advances in DNA forensics have had on investigations, on case clearances, and on exonerations. And NIJ's Tracey Johnson will be facilitating that discussion. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Tracey over the last year. She's amazing, she's a physical scientist within NIJ’s Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences. She spent a sizeable amount of her career, before joining NIJ, in the lab; she worked in the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and later worked in a local biotech company supporting human DNA identification development. She is the real deal at NIJ. She oversees NIJ’s Forensic Biology Research and Development portfolio. And I would like to invite Tracey and the panelists to come on stage. And while they do, we’re going to see a short introductory video.
JAKE TAPPER: Literally buried. Evidence to prove the man was locked away for a quarter of century for a crime he did not commit. They discovered that a blood-stained bandana police found near the crime scene was never DNA tested.
MALE: How quickly you get to do that testing may literally save someone's life.
FEMALE: DNA research supports law enforcement in so many ways, from the sensitivity of the testing throughout the years, testing on smaller, smaller quantities of DNA evidence.
SALLY WOLTER: We took advantage of NIJ's opportunity for a grant of solving cold cases with DNA.
MITCHELL R. MORRISSEY: Well, NIJ's role was critical. It allowed us to have the focus that we needed to solve these cases. Because of the Burglary Project that we did with NIJ, we were able to train a whole battery of felony prosecutors that knew how to do DNA.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Welcome and good morning, everyone. We are going to start off the panel here today talking about DNA investments. NIJ has invested over $110,000,000 in DNA over the last 15 years. And so, we're going to talk about some of that. But first, I'd like to take just one moment and have the folks on stage introduce themselves and how they're connected to this subject of DNA for case clearances and wrongful convictions. Melissa, why don't you start off?
MELISSA TAYLOR: Thank you so much for the invitation to be here. And like everyone has said before, it's so great to be in a room like this with such esteemed colleagues. My name is Melissa Taylor, and I'm a senior forensic science program manager at the National Institute of Justice. I manage a program that focus on looking at forensic science through a human factor's lens. So, I am covering a range of topics from cognitive bias to the effects of things like distraction, and how those things impact the evaluation of forensic evidence. One of the projects that I've worked on that has been heavily supported by NIJ is doing things like task analysis, really trying to understand what is a crime laboratory's role in managing evidence, how they approach it, what's the type of information that they need to be able to do good work. And I also manage a groundbreaking series that pools together, not only forensic scientists but other criminal justice partners like defense attorneys and prosecutors and law enforcement to really try to understand how improvements could be made and, again, looking at the subject through a forensic science lens. And one of the programs that I focus on is DNA. And I also have to say that I sort of cut my forensic teeth at NIJ working with John Morgan in the Office of Science and Technology years ago, which is where I sort of got bit by the bug of forensic science and have enjoyed working in the field and making an impact, making sure that people understand the importance of getting it right, and how those downstream effects can impact the criminal justice field.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you, Melissa. John, tell us about your role.
JOHN MORGAN: Okay. I'm John Morgan. I've been working as a Research Consultant with NIJ for the last couple of years doing a set of research looking at the role of forensic evidence in wrongful convictions. And it's really actually quite exciting for me to be here because I see the NIJ conference as a celebration of science and all the progress that's been made. And I don't want to be the--putting the cold water on that by talking about wrongful convictions, but it's actually quite useful because we're at a place where science and technology is continuing to improve in society as a whole and also in terms of how it's applied in the criminal justice system. And one of the implications of that that I don't think we often recognize is that it means that our experts are becoming ever more specialized. And so that has two interesting implications. One is that means that you have to understand the scope of your expertise, where is the limit of your reliability as an expert within your specialized domain. And it also means that it's much more difficult to communicate with other types of experts. I even think that juries are expects because they're actually in a learning mode, right, about a particular issue to become experts in that, and so communicating with other folks in the criminal justice community as experts can be fraught with all sorts of issues that, of course, I'm excited to say, I've learned an awful lot about from wrongful convictions.
I want to highlight just one case because it really illustrates it well and that is the Mayer Herskovic case which was in New York City. It was an assault case in 2013. His conviction was vacated, and the charges were dropped in 2018. The case revolved around a shoe; the victim's shoe was actually thrown by one of the assailants onto the roof of a building nearby and recovered about a week later. And the lab was able to recover 97.5 picograms worth of material, DNA material, off of that shoe. Unfortunately, the manufacturer had said that the kit was limited to only 125 picograms or more of material. That was the first problem in that case. Then the next issue was that they wanted to use what I call a low copy number approach, which is basically they did the PCR chain reaction to multiply the DNA, they added three cycles to it to be able to get more DNA multiplied, and that sometimes works, but sometimes it produces what a--stochastic effects to stutter allele drop in and drop out, basically spurious peaks, and it's not always clear which are real peaks and which are not, right? And then, they used an in-house statistical tool that they felt they had tested and validated, but it had a couple of weaknesses with it. One is it's not clear that it really was able to account for those spurious peaks and it actually absolutely did not take into account the fact that the issue was that the assailants were Hasidic, which part of that subpopulation is a very different kind of population statistics than you would for a broader population, and the tool did not take that into account. And so, all of these things made it so that that DNA analysis, even though, you know, there's a reliability to DNA and it's extraordinarily powerful tool, at some point there is a limit to the power of that tool, and recognizing the limit of reliability was important.
But the other thing, and then I'll pass it on, is that all those issues, in terms of how DNA is done, are things that NIJ has invested in and has been relevant to NIJ research. So that's really amazing, and I'm thankful for the fact that NIJ has been able to do that.
TRACEY JOHNSON: We're going to touch a little bit more on that in terms of the limitations of the science, definitely. Sarah, introduce yourself and tell us how you're connected to this topic.
SARAH CHU: Yeah. So, my name is Sarah Chu, I'm the Senior Advisor on Forensic Science Policy at the Innocence Project, and I'm a physical and social scientist by background and a policy advisor and advocate by trade. So, in my role, I advance policy changes at the federal and state level that we hope will advance forensic science to prevent wrongful convictions in the future. And in thinking about being here today, I thought way back to Attorney General Janet Reno and former NIJ Director Jeremy Travis, and what they did for us in 1996. So having been at the Innocence Project for 15 years, there's so many things that we take for granted today that weren't so certain back then, and one of them is the general consensus that wrongful convictions exist, so imagine that. And back in 1996, Attorney General Janet Reno, former NIJ Director Jeremy Travis published a report on the first 28 known wrongful convictions in the United States that were overturned by DNA, and that was a phenomenal recognition by the federal government of this problem, and it generated an incredible amount of research and resources that NIJ directed to the problem of wrongful convictions, one of which was spurred by the 2004 Justice for All Act when NIJ implemented the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grants. And what those grants did was not only exonerate dozens and dozens and dozens of innocent people, but the grants also identified people who committed the actual crime and very, very, very importantly, it helped grantees and partners work together to either use post-conviction DNA testing to identify or remediate systemic criminal legal system problems, but it also helped us develop data-driven policy. That's the foundation of our policy work now. So, without these early, early NIJ investments and the continuous investments in this work, our work wouldn't be possible in the way that it is today. So, I'm incredibly grateful to be here today.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you for that very much, Sarah. So, you can see that we've got three very different sort of points of view, expertise, and backgrounds that we're going to have a discussion now around the development of DNA capabilities.
As I had mentioned before, NIJ's invested in DNA heavily over the years. It's why it was chosen as one of the three portions of this plenary session. So, it's done things like push the boundaries of DNA testing to the limits that John talked about. It's done other things like move DNA testing outside of the laboratory with rapid DNA platforms. It's done things like invest in studies that can develop tools that are available then to test other future methodologies. But what I'd really like to kind of dig into is sort of this shifting sands that we've noticed over the years in terms of DNA: the questions of the reliability, the limits; DNA transfer persistence and prevalence; as DNA testing has gotten more sensitive, how has that changed the field in terms of your particular points of view? Melissa, I’ll steal a little bit of your thunder in saying that “Words are hard. Words are very hard in terms of describing this limitation.” So, Melissa, I’ll start with you.
MELISSA TAYLOR: Yeah. I think everyone can intuitively think about, sort of, if you find a dollar-sized bill amount of blood in the room, and what that might mean and how you might understand that to be connected to a crime, versus having two or three skin cells, for example, right? The connection is not as clear, right? So as the technology changes and it gets more sensitivity, we have to take a step back and really start thinking about, "Well, what does this mean? What does this say about the interactions that have happened here?" And one of the key issues is really about communicating that shift to people who have an understanding of DNA in its early inception, which is lots of blood, lots of...
JOHN MORGAN: Material?
MELISSA TAYLOR: Material. Thank you. Lots of material to work with versus what it means now, right? And words matter, words are hard, being able to communicate that and shift a jury's understanding of DNA so that they can understand what it means. And just because you can find something or detect something doesn't mean that it's important. And getting people to understand that fact so that they can put that information in the proper context is really important, and that's where communication becomes that much more critical, right? So, we can find it, which is not a technical issue, it's not a technology issue, right? It's really just talking about how do you get people to understand its value and its meaning with the shifting sand of technology development.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you very much for that, Melissa. Sarah, I know in preparing for this conversation, you and I talked a little bit about that. So, would you like to follow up to Melissa's answer?
SARAH CHU: So, Melissa mentioned that the developments in DNA have unlocked all of this information. And we're hit by this sheer volume of data. And while we've improved the signal-to-noise issue with these advancements, we haven't really grappled with, as a society and as a criminal legal system, what to do with all of this data because it has meaning. And oh my goodness, that was loud. Excuse me.
So, when we're collecting DNA, the source of all of this data, how are we collecting it? From whom are we collecting it? Are we collecting it disparately among different communities? And when we're processing this data, what information are we taking from it? This is something that I'm particularly interested in and concerned about because of the rapid expansion of genome-wide association studies and what that means for the meaning of data. How do we interpret it and discuss it to fact finders and investigators? And then finally, we have an enormous ethical responsibility with how we handle the DNA data that we're uncovering with these advanced technologies. So, if we're collecting DNA, at what point do we expunge data from our databases? Who are we expunging data for?
And I think that this is a really important question right now because there has been a huge effort to expand the sizes of state DNA databases to include innocent people, so DNA being taken upon arrest. And it's being expanded from felonies to misdemeanors. So, what does that mean for us as a society? What does that mean for us as people who work in the criminal legal system? How does that impact the communities from whom much of this DNA is being taken? These studies have shown that the state DNA databases are disproportionately overrepresented by communities of color. And so, it unlocks a lot of questions that I think that need to be addressed along with the technological developments that we’ve been just seeing as an avalanche coming out. And so just thinking back to what Attorney General Merrick Garland said this morning, how do we keep people safe and protect civil liberties? And that we really need to join those two things together as we’re thinking about future research.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you for that, Sarah. I think that's a wonderful introduction to sort of my next question. And that is sort of the shifting from sort of a quantitative methods to qualitative methods in DNA. So, we've shifted from using very clear, sort of, language with the introduction of a technique called probabilistic genotyping. This is a mathematical tool that is used to interpret mixture profiles typically, so DNA sources that come from multiple individuals. And that has changed the way that we talk about those results. So, we're moving from very clear sort of results to probable results. So, using a likelihood term to describe those results. So, John, why don't you start us off in terms of how you see that shifting language impacting the way that we're discussing DNA and investing in DNA research?
JOHN MORGAN: I think it's important to understand that there is a difference between quoting a number and making sure that you have no subjective analysis as part of that number. Sometimes when people hear a number, they automatically assume that that is more objective, but anytime you do a statistical interpretation, one of the things you're doing is you're defining populations ahead of time, right? And so that can oftentimes be a subjective determination. And actually, one of the things that happened in the Herskovic case was they made subjective determinations of what populations were relevant in a way that mislead the fact finders in the case. And so, it's important in that sense to have an approach to that that allows you to report numbers that still, even though it might be, you know, a likelihood ratio or, you know, that is a more vigorous way of reporting that is still reliable. And to only do it within that framework that you have the knowledge necessary to do that statistical interpretation.
For example, there's all sorts of DNA professionals, right? And people who do different kinds of interpretation there. That doesn't mean that you might be able to extend that expertise into an area that isn't really DNA analysis, you know. There was an intimate partner case that rested on whether when the DNA was deposited, the Donald Nash case. And the analyst, who's really good at capillary electrophoresis and statistical interpretation, made a speculative interpretation about whether the victim had washed, or not, and whether that impacted the DNA. That's not valid, obviously. That's a speculative kind of opinion. Those are the kind of things that we need to understand and watch out for.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Uh-hmm.
MELISSA TAYLOR: Yeah. And if I just might add, you know, understanding when someone gives a number that likelihood ratio, what does it mean? Again, what question is it answering? Is it answering an association between an individual and a piece of evidence? Or are you using that likelihood ratio to then explore other questions? How did it get there? How long has it been there? All of those things are inappropriate. So really just focusing on understanding what is the question that you're answering goes a long way to making sure that the evidence is used appropriately.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you for that, Melissa. So being aware of the time and making sure that we have enough time for both Liz and Mark to present, I want to kind of wrap things up here. But I want to just reiterate a couple of points of view, and that is that we need to really truly understand the limitations of the science as scientists, but more importantly, we need to understand the words that we're using when we're in a testimony sort of situation. When we're translating what we know as scientists in the court community for those in the justice system to understand. And so, with those sorts of remarks, I just wanted to ask each of you, where do you see the future of research with respect to DNA specifically, in terms of how young DNA analysts are using their knowledge and information in translating that within the court system? So, Sarah, I'll start with you.
SARAH CHU: So, Tracey, I hope you'll forgive me if I approach that question a little bit differently.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Sure.
SARAH CHU: So, throughout the agenda, I was really pleased to see that there are so many discussions and panels on technology and how we implement technology in the criminal legal system. And I would like to leave the viewers and the audience members here today with three points that I think are relevant to every single technology discussion. So, the first is research needs. And we need a federal forensic science and investigative technology research agenda that evaluates extant and emerging technologies that helps us evaluate both the validity and reliability of forensic science technologies, as well as their ethical, legal, and social implications, and whether or not they can be implemented in a just and equitable way. And that science would feed into accountability measures. One being a national system of oversight. We need to evaluate technologies before they're launched into society and tested on people when life and liberty are at stake. That's not happening right now. It needs to happen. And then the last one is, anytime we're using technology, anytime we're using science, we need to implement the duty to correct and notify. So, the duty to correct is the ethical and professional obligation that when an error occurs the provider identifies the scope of the problem, remedies, determines the system level and cultural level causes and remedies and corrects them. And duty to notify is making sure that all criminal legal system stakeholders come together to initiate a publicly accountable process to notify all the impacted people.
TRACEY JOHNSON: Thank you, Sarah. And so, with just maybe a minute left, John, quickly, where do you see research in the future?
JOHN MORGAN: So, it pains me as an old physical scientist to completely echo what Sarah says because I think in order to get all the science and technology out there, we need to have organizations that are able to adopt evidence-based practices. And we need to have interfaces within organizations that are reflecting the adoption of evidence-based practices. So, I think there needs to be more social science actually looking at those questions in order for the technology to be used properly out there.
TRACEY JOHNSON: So, interdisciplinary research perhaps. Melissa?
MELISSA TAYLOR: And I think I’m going to also respond with a series of questions. I think in all the forensic disciplines, not just in this discipline, there’s some big questions that, regardless of the technology, remain open. Do we understand the question that's being asked? Will this technology be appropriate? Do we have the right methods and techniques to answer those questions? But then there are a lot of people stuff, right, that I think we often forget. Are we hiring the right people? Do we have the right information? Are we giving them the right information at the right time? Do they have the right tools, right? So really focusing on the people side of things, because regardless of the technology and how great it is, it has to be put in the hands of someone, and it has to be usable to the broader criminal justice community. So, focusing on those sociotechnical issues, knowing that the technology is going to keep pace, it's going to keep moving ahead.
TRACEY JOHNSON: All right. And with that, thank you. And I'm going to invite Nancy back on the stage to introduce our next panelists. Thank you.
NANCY LA VIGNE: Okay. Well, so when I started at NIJ, I knew a few things about social science, but it's been a real delight to learn so much around the forensic, investigative science side of the shop. And that includes actually our next topic, which is on NIJ's Body Armor Standards. Delighted that we have NIJ's Dr. Mark Greene. He's the director of the Office of Technology and Standards at NIJ to facilitate this discussion. Mark brings a wealth of knowledge to this topic. He has expertise in technology standards, conformity assessment for equipment used by law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners. He also manages the NIJ compliance testing program for ballistic resistant body armor, as well as stab resistant body armor, and semi-automatic pistols for law enforcement. This is a really interesting topic, one that NIJ has been in for a very long time. And I would like to welcome Mark and the panelists on the stage, and we'll have another introductory video.
MARK GREENE: The biggest thing that we run is the Compliance Testing Program. What the Compliance Testing Program does is it uses standards and conformity assessment to essentially add a level of quality assurance to the body armor that law enforcement purchase and use every day.
NEWS REPORTER: The suspect in this case is accused of robbing a BP gas station, the clerk, at gunpoint, and then running off from police. The officer in this case was shot. He did survive, thanks to his bulletproof vest according to investigators.
KYLE RUSSELL: Had a .45 under his leg. And right as he growled, he grabbed it out and shot me once in the chest. Luckily, I was wearing my body armor, which you could see it hit me right on the chest. So, without this, there's no way I'd be here. It was right on my heart.
ED HINCHEY: The next round, hit the edge of the door, tumbled, engaged my body armor. I could feel that. I knew it wasn't hot, didn't bother me as much, then I felt a really strong impact right on my ribcage. That was the third round, a direct hit right on the edge of my ribs, which surgeons later told me would've been lethal.
MALE: The NIJ has truly set the standard and forced manufacturers to build better body armor.
MALE: Getting back to officer safety, there are new threats that emerge. And we need to stay abreast of all of the different changes out there that may affect officer safety.
MARK GREENE: All right. Thank you, Nancy, for the introduction. What I’m going to do is I’m going to introduce our discussants today, and then give the audience here in the room and online a very, very quick walk through 50 years of NIJ history in this area. A topic area that is in fact even older than me. So, I am just the latest in a long legacy of NIJ program managers and scientists and directors supporting this very important initiative.
Furthest from me is Commander Thor Eells. He's had over 30 years of law enforcement experience with the Colorado Springs Police Department, serving in patrol investigations, training professional standards, and SWAT. The majority of his career was in tactical operations where he served as a SWAT operator, team commander, and division commander. In addition to his vast practical experience, Commander Eells has extensive teaching experience focusing on leadership, tactical decision making, and emergency operations center functions, and is a sought-after instructor in SWAT command and supervision. He was instrumental in developing the National Tactical Officer Association's national SWAT standards and has been recognized as an expert witness in federal courts on tactics, non-lethal weapons, and use of force. Commander Eells is currently serves as NTOA’s executive director. We are pleased to have him on the stage this morning.
To my immediate left is Dr. Amanda Forster. She is a materials research engineer in the Material Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has worked on issues related to the longevity of body armor since 2003. Dr. Forster has published numerous papers related to the long-term stability of polymeric materials used in body armor and the methods for body armor testing and is managing several grants related to this research at NIST. She's a member of the graduate school at the University of Maryland and is an active participant in ASTM standards development activities for personal protective equipment, and Amanda has been a long-time contributor to NIJ's body armor standards. We are grateful for her to be here today.
And finally, last but not least, in the middle is Captain Alan Hanson. He has over 28 years of law enforcement experience with the Fairfax County Police Department here in Virginia, currently serving as the commander of the traffic division. Captain Hanson has been a member of the department's public order unit since 2001 and is the administrative commander for this unit overseeing training, personal protective equipment purchases, and their budget. He is one of the founding members of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Civil Disorder Unit subcommittee and has served as a chairman or vice chairman of this subcommittee from its inception in April 2015 through April of 2020. He has worked with NIJ on developing standards for civil disorder unit for personal protective equipment. For those of you who may not know, civil disorder units, colloquially we call them, sort of, riot gear. And traveled to the United Kingdom and Germany on a research trip for NIJ in November 2017 with other practitioner experts to understand European public order standards and best practices in public order equipment training and tactics. We are also very delighted to have Alan here on the stage with us today.
So, for the past 50 years, NIJ is probably best known in the field of body armor for maintaining its equipment performance standard. This has evolved from the very first standard for ballistic resistant body armor that was published in 1972, which was done in consultation with the National Bureau of Standards, which later became NIST in the 1980s. So NIJ has had a long, collaborative relationship with NIST going back over 50 years. NIJ funded projects in the 1970s. This research was pivotal in the development of modern police body armor. It included the very first field test and evaluation of approximately 5,000 lightweight body armor garments in 15 geographically diverse cities with both the highest assault rates and the highest number of registered trauma surgeons. That's how they determined the cities. And in fact, the very first body armor save that was documented was in Seattle a couple days before Christmas in 1975 when an officer responded to an armed robbery and was shot in his body armor.
Looking at the data, 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that police and sheriff's patrol officers on the job fatality rates four times higher than the overall fatality rate for workers across all industries in the U.S. that year. A majority are traffic related, as well as deadly assault with firearms, which amounts to about two fatalities per week on average total for law enforcement. The FBI's Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, or LEOKA, statistics show that from 1987 to 2019, 33 years, over 80,000 officers were assaulted with firearms alone, which roughly amounts to about seven per day on average. And of the 1,900 plus officers feloniously killed in the line of duty in the U.S. over that span, over 90% of those were due to firearms.
Unfortunately, it would be a lot more without body armor, as well as the standards and testing that go along with that. Thousands of documented saves by manufacturers, agencies, and media reports attest to this. In NIJ’s forthcoming revision of its standard, the seventh revision, includes improved test methods for female body armor and updated protection levels that incorporate additional rifle threats, among other changes, which will result in improved protection for officers over the already good protection that we have.
Finally, NIJ's compliance testing program ensures the body armor performs according to minimum performance requirements in practice and not just on paper. Use of NIJ-certified body armor is ubiquitous among law enforcement and corrections agencies, and there are over 400 models of armor on NIJ's list labeled with NIJ's trademark. So, with that sort of common introduction that we all have now, I'd like to turn to our panel, and I want to get each of your take on why standards are important and why each of you might have been drawn to standards during your career and any particular interests you have in body armor and personal protective equipment. I'll start with Commander Eells over here on the left.
THOR EELLS: Thank you, Mark. My interest in body armor was a little bit personal for me. I have a medical background, before I came into law enforcement. And so, I was very fascinated by the correlation between the protection provided by body armor and without it. And, unfortunately, I was reminded here as the Director and Attorney General speaking about age, or how long they've known one another, I go way back to when body armor was very, very new to the profession, and it was optional. In most cases, it wasn't issued. If officers wanted it, they had to purchase it. And an officer that I served with had recently purchased body armor, wasn't quite familiar with it, left it hanging in his locker and, that shift, was shot and killed. And so, it became very, very apparent to me that this had the ability to be literally life-altering. And that was what started my journey into beginning to educate myself to learn about protective equipment.
And fast forward now, almost 40 years, working with Alan and some others on public order and civil disorder, so to speak, and looking at that, coupled with my experience in the federal courts as a use of force expert, there's a direct correlation between protective gear and use of force and some of the explanations as to why force was used and or not used. And so that compilation of different disciplines, so to speak, has really piqued my interest in the need to have proper protective equipment and how that then translates to the utilization of that equipment in the field, which will have a direct impact on whether law enforcement continues to build or damage trust within their respective communities.
MARK GREENE: That’s a great perspective. Alan, yourself.
ALAN HANSON: Thank you, sir. So, when I came on in 1994, I was issued body armor. So, at that time, it was prevalent, obviously. And so, you didn't question that it met a standard at that point. You know, there was a standard out there, and it was logical that something that was that vital to safety would need a standard. And so, I guess, like probably most law enforcement officers, you kind of took that for granted: that there was a standard that it was built to and that was going to protect you.
And so fast forward to 2014 and after Ferguson, the wake of Ferguson, we started talking regionally about how we would work together, communicate, coordinate on--in a public order or riot-type environment. And so, we wanted to move the region forward, so we got together and had a subcommittee established for public order in the region. And not long after that was established, Baltimore happened. And so, a lot of the jurisdictions, the agencies, from around the region went to Baltimore. And a lot of very hard and difficult lessons were learned in Baltimore. We took from that an understanding that there is no standard in the U.S. for riot equipment. And that's where my passion is.
And so, we started to look around the world at how different standards were established, why they were established. And so that provoked us, and even some of our membership, to buy the British standard from the UK on riot gear. And so, then we started to look at and, obviously, NIJ came to the forefront of our mind as far as standards go. How can we solicit assistance from NIJ in helping to develop riot gear standards in the U.S.? And in 2016, we met with Dr. Greene, and we had this whole presentation set up as to try to garner interest and just try to capture their interest in this. We walked in and within five minutes they’re like, "Yeah. We'd love to help. How can we help?" So, we actually didn't do the presentation after that.
But standards are so vital. You count on the equipment to protect you. But if you don’t have standards or you don’t have some type of certification, you’re left at the mercy of industry as to what they’re selling you, who can sell you the best item. And a lot of times, with law enforcement, it comes down to cost. And so sad to say that sometimes, it’s a check on the block that, “Okay. We provided you protection gear.” But is it protection gear? And so that was a concern. That’s really how I became involved in trying to improve standards.
MARK GREENE: Thanks, Alan. I'm going to come back to the civil disorder in a few minutes. But I'm going to turn to Amanda. Amanda and I are probably more alike on the stage because we both kind of come to it as scientists. Talk to the audience about what drew you to standards and personal protective equipment.
AMANDA FORSTER: Thanks so much, Mark. So, my background actually is in textiles, fiber, and polymer science, so really, a niche part of material science. And when I first came to NIST in 2003, I was very quickly assigned to the investigation of a piece of armor that did not perform as expected. And it was made out of a new material called Zylon. And this was a really interesting opportunity for me to do fundamental research that had a real impact. So, I could really see: the work that I was doing in the laboratory was helping solve a problem. And then finding ways to keep officers safe through the development of rigorous test methods that go into the NIJ body armor standards.
So that NIJ body armor standard is all based on performance specifications. So those test methods that we develop, that are based on science, those give armor wearers confidence that their armor will perform as expected when they're faced with a life-threatening situation. So, for me, I love the fact that I can really see a true impact of the research that I'm doing. I can meet the people, like these gentlemen up here on the stage with me, that are actually using this equipment, and see how that impacts them and really get some feedback on where they have issues and what their needs are. And then take those back and implement them, so…
MARK GREENE: Thanks, Amanda. It's a really good point about, you know, the development of standards. A documentary standard was really kind of a, if you will, an ability for us all to sort of play from the same sheet of music, is also a vehicle to really gather the best research and then implement that in reality because you can build products to that.
So, one concept I wanted to talk about also today, and Alan, I think both you and Thor touched on this, as well, is about the sources of information and sources of information about equipment. And how does law enforcement get their information about equipment and how do they decide what to buy? What's the role of NIJ and other government agencies as honest brokers of this information and what impact can that have on the overall quality of equipment and, ultimately, the safety for officers in the field? I'll let Thor take a shot at that one first.
THOR EELLS: Well, I would echo much of what Alan just mentioned previously. Unfortunately, when law enforcement looks to purchase equipment, one of the first considerations is cost. So often, you know, the request for proposal or a bid goes out, and it's the low bid that wins. And it's not often is there much consideration given to the actual quality of the equipment, so to speak. As he said, they put a check in the box. And I'm mindful of an incident in which we engaged in a protest. And a brick was thrown, hit an officer in the head that was wearing a helmet, that was touted to be a riot control helmet. Well, it cracked the helmet, and the officer suffered a career-ending injury. But there was no certification to it. There was no standard.
In the U.S., we have a tremendous challenge. You know, law enforcement was designed by our forefathers to be fractured. There are over 18,000 law enforcement agencies, police departments alone, over 3,000 sheriff's departments. And, believe it or not, there is no one standard on how they train, what equipment they have, what type of equipment, what level certification of vest body armor, protective gear of any sort. None. Zero. And so that is a huge challenge. And what I have found in my career is that some of the reluctance is in purchasing this equipment it's often viewed as an unfunded mandate. And so even though there is the science, there is the technology, there is the equipment, that we do know will meet the need, if there isn't funding to follow, it isn't often sought after. And we don't do probably the best within our profession of communicating with one another. I applaud Alan when he created the metro subcommittee on public order to share information. We need more of that, and that's how we are better able to disseminate information about protective gear standards that we do know is meeting our needs.
MARK GREENE: So, it sounds like, you know, the ballistic resistant body armor has a great legacy and has been very successful, but other parts of the police protective ensemble is maybe less developed, and that we could explore how NIJ body armor standard and testing program could be a good foundation for the law enforcement community into the future for other types of equipment.
In the interest of time, I do want to get to the last question and think about the future. And there's no right or wrong way to answer this question, so I'll just sort of say, you know, where would you like to see things in five, 10, 20 years? How can NIJ play a role in moving us forward? And what's something you could change, you know, if you could, what research should we be doing now that will pay off tomorrow? I'm going to let Amanda go, and then I'm going to give Alan the last word.
AMANDA FORSTER: Thank you so much. So, coming at this from a materials science background, I think what I would love to see is a materials innovation akin to that in the invention of Kevlar in the 1960s, something that completely revolutionizes protective equipment, not just for ballistic protection, but maybe for stab, and then riot threats as well, that makes protective equipment lighter, more comfortable, and more protective for officers to wear. We do a really good job of protecting officers these days, at least with the body armor program, but that could always be a little bit more comfortable for the wearer. So, I know that NIJ is investing in a lot of research to look at materials innovations in this space, and I'm hopeful that that will pay off in the future for all of these different types of protective equipment.
MARK GREENE: That's a really great point. We've got a project ongoing for many years with the Army Research Lab where we're doing just that. Alan, look into the future, I'll give you the last word.
ALAN HANSON: So, for law enforcement, we haven't done a whole lot in the arena of standards. You look at the fire department, fire and rescue, the National Fire Protection Association, and practically everything that a firefighter touches has a standard, and it's built to that standard. And so, my look into the future is like, "Why don't we do that in law enforcement? Why can't we do that in law enforcement?" From the duty uniform that we wear: does it protect the officer? And is it built for purpose? To all the different things that Amanda discussed, or Thor discussed, there's a lot of avenues for us to explore within law enforcement and to create the standards. You know, the riot standards were the closest to my heart, but going beyond that, you know, just whatever the officer touches, I mean, going back to the duty uniform, it's typically made of polyester or some blend of polyester that will melt to you. And I have had a friend of mine that was lit on fire wearing that uniform and suffered very severe burns from it. But if the uniform offered some protection from that, that would be also beneficial to officers.
MARK GREENE: Right. That's great. I mean, so I think, you know, we need to continue our engagement with the law enforcement community, understand the needs and requirements, continue working on developing standards, and then also continuing, I think, really, innovative research into the future on new materials and new test methods. What a great discussion I've had the privilege of moderating today. Thank you all for being here, Thor, Alan, and Amanda. And, Nancy, I'll turn it right back over to you.
NANCY LA VIGNE: So many different ways to geek out at this conference and yet, truly practical implications that are important; protecting officers' lives, which couldn't be more important. So, I like to say often that I don't have any favorite children when it comes to NIJ's topics, right? They're all interesting to me. But please forgive me if I admit that this next topic is near and dear to my heart. It is on the spatial analysis of crime and place. We're featuring Dr. Liz Groff as our facilitator. Liz was our first external hire for NIJ's Crime Mapping Research Center back in the day. She went on to direct that center. She went on to acquire her PhD in geography, and for 18 years, she was on the faculty at Temple University, rising in the ranks of full professor, conducting a lot of really important applied research, including as an NIJ grantee. I'm so delighted that Liz is back in the NIJ fold as a full-time federal employee and senior advisor. And I'd like to welcome Liz and the other panelists to the stage, while we watch another video.
MALE: The Commissioner is attempting to move this department from the Dark Ages into the 21st century. That means preventing crime by relying on computer-generated data.
PETE WILLIAMS: Powerful new computers are making these breakthroughs possible, applying the science of human behavior to solve crimes, even predict them. And the Justice Department is urging U.S. police to use the same technology.
NANCY LA VIGNE: It's more sophisticated than the pin mapping of days of yore, in that you can put layers of information on the map.
MALE: We designed the Philadelphia Foot Patrol experiment as a randomized controlled field experiment. We used crime mapping techniques to identify the top 1% of violent crime intersections in the city.
JOEL CAPLAN: It doesn’t just tell you where crime is happening. It tells you why it’s happening.
FEMALE: The group Newark Public Safety Collaborative uses police data to look at patterns, not people, to determine what trends exist in targeted neighborhoods and how to change them.
WARREN THOMPSON: We're standing actually in front of a bodega that the community knew was problematic, but the data definitely confirmed it.
FEMALE: And they say the proposed strategies are geared at prevention and reduction rather than reacting to a crime.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Hello.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: Hello.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Well, wait. Let me start my timer to make sure that we don't go past our time. Oh, we're lucky. All right.
So, I'm going to start with just a three-sentence history, spatial analysis and NIJ. So, in the 1990s, improvements in computer systems and the availability of data produced new data-driven policing strategies such as CompStat and hotspots policing. These innovations sparked an enormous demand for information, tools, and research to support the use of data and spatial analytics. In response, NIJ held conferences, some of you may remember the crime mapping conferences, and sponsored the development of resources and software programs to make analysis more accessible. But how have these investments led to changes on the ground? And have those changes been successful?
Today, we have three leading experts on the stage with me, each bringing a unique perspective. And they're going to help us explore the impact of spatial analysis, the unintended consequences, and what the future holds. So, let's get started. All right. I am not going to introduce our panelists. They're going to introduce themselves. So, I've got a multi-part question for you. What is your current role, your background on this topic, and what do you view as the greatest impact that spatial analysis has had on the field? Let's start with Jerry, then we'll go immediately to Alex, and end with Tracie.
JERRY RATCLIFFE: Great. Thank you. Hello, everybody. My name's Jerry Ratcliffe, but if you don't like what I'm going to say, then I'm Merrick Garland. I'm a former police officer. I'm a college professor at Temple University. I'm a scientific advisor to the IACP, and I'm the host of a podcast called Reducing Crime. But just before I start, I want to congratulate Nancy on getting this conference up and running.
TRACIE KEESEE: 100%.
JERRY RATCLIFFE: Really, it’s great. After 12 years. Along with Karhlton Moore and Alex Piquero, the three of them really are doing great things at OJP, setting things on fire. You guys are like the Destiny’s Child of Justice, the three of you.
TRACIE KEESEE: No. No.
JERRY RATCLIFFE: And in case anybody's wondering who's Beyonce, yeah, it's Alex. Yeah. But I'm old enough to remember the original Crime Mapping Research Center conference presentations. I was there, the earliest ones. And when I remember back to those days, I cringe a little bit remembering just how coarse we were in terms of the analysis. But, as a good point of comparison, for those who don't know, the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment, that was George Kelling's work in the 1980s. They took car beats that some cases were 10, 15 blocks by 10 blocks, and just converted those to foot patrol beats because that was the best spatial analysis level that was really available. And at that point, that just became like a truism. After that, that became the last word, as it were, on foot patrol: that it didn't work. But when you think about the value of things like the Crime Mapping Research Center bringing scientific methods forward, improving our spatial accuracy, instead of looking at, you know, beats that were 15 blocks by 10 blocks, we can now narrow down crime to individual street corners, and be much more focused and deliberate. And what that does is it focuses our crime prevention, our activity, on the communities that need it the most. It stops us, including whole swathes of beats that really have low crime and don't need a lot of work. And as a result of that, in Philadelphia, about 10 years ago, we were able to run, with the help of Commissioner Charles Ramsey, for those who remember him, the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment. And what that did was change how we think about foot patrol, because the spatial analysis tools were key to focusing foot patrol resources in a few square blocks. And it was wonderful work that Liz and I were very lucky to be involved in. Yeah.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: Well, my name is Alex Santana. I'm the director of the Newark Public Safety Collaborative and the faculty at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers Newark. My story started about 10 years ago when I met Joel Caplan and Les Kennedy. Les Kennedy was my mentor, and I started getting interested on geospatial analysis. I consider myself a pracademic, and it's exactly what Nancy La Vigne was mentioning. Is this idea of how do we make data usable and actionable so the communities can use it? And that takes me to the Newark Public Safety Collaborative. And you saw on that video, one of my favorite spokesperson, community leader in Newark, talking about the role of bodega.
So, let's wrap all this. Where did it all start? The Newark Public Safety Collaborative is an anchor program of Rutgers Newark, established in the university. And I've been leading this effort together with Joel Caplan and Les Kennedy, for now over four years. We started with about 10 groups at a table, and those groups included law enforcement, community-based organizations, even businesses and urban developers, so very interesting table. From there to last week when we had our last meeting, we had--now, we have 45 different community organizations, and we were very proud to have Director La Vigne attending our last meeting. So, she could see the type of collaborative that we have. I would say the strength of this effort is not only the people at the table which bring their lived experiences, but it's also the fact that this table is organized and focused on the use of data and spatial analytics to be more exact. The collaborative uses a restraint model, which is a place-based approach that was developed by Joel Caplan and Les Kennedy and supported by NIJ back in 2013, if I'm not wrong. And what it has allowed us is to start looking at crime, not just in a hyperlocal level, but from the lenses of where crime concentrates, but also what kind of place are concentrated with crime. And in the video, they talked about the example of bodegas, and I will talk about it a bit later when we get to the questions, but just a quick introduction.
TRACIE KEESEE: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate you. Good morning. And thank you, Nancy, and congratulations. And I have to tell you, I have never been called old in such an eloquent way this morning. It was fabulous. I know, right? I was like, "Wow. She just did call us old."
I'm Tracie Keesee and I am one of the co-founders of the Center for Policing Equity. I am the COO and President. The Center for Policing Equity centers Black and Brown communities in the construction and implementation of new public safety models. We talk about spatial analysis, one of the things that I have to be really mindful of that the work we're talking about is not new. We have to look at the construction of those spaces, and they are socially constructed. I often remind scientists and social scientists that redlining created a lot of the spaces that you're talking about. And the way that people are living today is by design. That includes the resources lack thereof. And when we're talking about using that type of analysis to deploy often already strained resources that we get from our law enforcement folks. And they will be the first to tell you: we are not the folks that often need to be responding into those communities who are in need. And there are lessons to be learned. Not only are there definitely great outcomes, and I think in a lot of the projects that you're doing, but when we talked earlier about the impact that race plays in a lot of the new types of things that we're doing, we have to be mindful that a lot of things we're doing in spatial analysis have a different unintended consequence. And a lot of times we're talking about the neighborhood level analysis, those are constructed, and they are suffering in ways that often are not a law enforcement response. So, I look forward to our conversation that we had earlier about to continue. So, thank you.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Yes. Great. Thank you. So, continuing with the vein that you brought up, what are some of the benefits and unintended consequences of mapping out crime to small areas, and then, in particular, to hotspots? And so, Tracie, I'm going to start with you because you've already brought it up, right?
TRACIE KEESEE: Right, right. Well, let's talk about some of the benefits, right? I think some of the benefits are, especially in this day and age, and I think that we all have mentioned that some of us have been around for a while, and we’ve been in this room before. And I’m hoping that one of the things that we understand that all of what is happening in some of the communities are not a law enforcement response. One of the most prominent things we’re talking about is mental health. Black and brown communities are suffering at a, you know, a huge rate. But we also need to understand that the social determinants of public health, social determinants of crime, are one and the same and that we should invest in those, and I think that having risk terrain modeling and having community at the table help us recognize that even more. It allows us to press for investments, or continued investments, in that way. So, I think that is helpful.
I think the harmful piece of this is not recognizing that and recognizing that that's what we need to do. It's also not democratizing the data in a way in which you have those who should be at the table and learning and understanding how the analysis is working not at the table. How are you defining community? We should still not be the sole groups of folks defining community. Community means very different things in very different places. And oftentimes, we're still inviting those folks who agree with us at the table. We have a lot of folks who don't agree. And so, unless we're really widening that definition and sitting with people who may not care for us, even if they may not want to listen but giving them exposure, those are things that we still are doing. And so, I think there's pros and cons to everything, but these things show promise.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Wow. Great. Which of you wants to jump in next?
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: I like to use the example of community policing. Community policing is something that has been around, you know, since the '70s. But what is community policing, really? And when we take a deeper look, community policing has always been very police-centric and the police has had first access to the data and they were leading those conversations and if you think about that conversation, if someone is telling me there's this problem, tell me what to do, and the community was going to respond, "Do your job. You're not doing your job." So, the conversations were not working. There was not a good synergy. When we created this model, the data-informed community engagement model where we bring all these people to the table, the police are no longer leading the conversation. They are just part of the conversation. We create a level playing field where the police, the community, and I agree with you that we need to define the community.
So, the way that I understand the community is through different tiers. You have the community-based organizations, the nonprofits that are working in the community, residents, all those are members of the community, but they play different roles. In our table for example, we prioritize community-based organizations because they are professionals who are delivering services to the community for example. And in that table, what we did is we said, okay, let's organize a conversation where that and analytics and democratizing access to those analytics was, as you said, are going to be the focus of the conversation. So that, instead of the conversation become anecdotal and based on who has the biggest ego in the room or who's going to bring the, you know, the particular problem to the table, let's look at the data and let's talk about what to do. The data doesn't become the end of the conversation, just the beginning of the conversation. And it kind of keeps everyone focused on here are some of the issues, why are these issues? Because the data is telling us that we should focus on this auto theft, gun violence, violent crime. We look at how it changes from the previous month, the previous year, until now and we look at the neighborhood level for example what is happening.
I like an example that Director Piquero working with Director La Vigne spoke about in the CVIPI meeting. They talked about the problem neighborhood. And they said when you look at the macro level, you can see problem neighborhoods and think that there's nothing you can do but when you take a deeper dive into that problem neighborhood, you can see that crime is highly concentrated in over just 5% of that neighborhood, so the problems are coming from very specific places. Having a conversation about what places act as magnets to crime can really help people start to think creatively and innovatively about what to do with the problems and no longer feel defeated about the problem and think that there’s nothing that can be done.
We all know that issues of unemployment, inequality, racial segregation, all contribute to the problem. But by giving them at least a tool to start dealing with the problem in ways that the community accept and that creates expectations on what needs to be done, there's no longer one player dealing with the problem. Now it's a collaborative dealing with what to do. And that's example of bodegas, and I'm going to make it short because I want to let Jerry go. But the bodegas became a really interesting project because we saw over the summer of last year different incidents of gun violence happening near bodegas that got a lot of press attention. We already had identified those in our analysis as being problematic. We brought it to the meeting and the amount of different strategies that came out from the meeting, again, organically, was unprecedented. The police said we're going to use code enforcement, so they used code enforcement to look at violations taking place in those bodegas. Two community groups working with the city decided to do a community survey. My favorite is the connection with food deserts and bodegas. Bodegas tend to exist in spaces where there's no other services, so the reason they are a magnet is because they literally are some of the only businesses in the area. So, they become the meeting point. Now how do you distinguish the bodega that is providing a community service versus the bodega that is creating problems because there's drug selling or there's other types of illegal activity? So, the community group took a more proactive approach and said let's ask the business owners what is happening in the bodegas, not the police, the community organization. And PSE&G, our local utility company, created a flyer for the purpose of this project and said for $20, you can get a flood light in front of the bodega to help you increase lighting because we know violent crime tends to happen more overnight, in front of your bodegas so that it mitigates some of the attracting qualities of that space.
So just an example of how I see this co-production effort and Director La Vigne mentioned co-creation. I also like co-creation, how it sounds is defined that all these players are playing different roles. Collaboratively, they are delivering public safety. But is that co-production effort, no longer community policing which I think we have--I mean, I don’t want to say we should move away from it, but it’s not what we are doing.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Jerry. Please weigh in.
JERRY RATCLIFFE: I think you pretty much covered it all. So, coffee anybody?
I would reiterate so many of the same points. I think moving beyond the notion of crime mapping to neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are not problematic. Neighborhoods comprise of small, focused problems, not just places like bodegas. Your own work has shown that, you know, a few bars are overwhelmingly responsible for a lot of crime and crime mapping has allowed us, especially in Philadelphia, to work together to find that that violence is very focused within half a block around those locations, so now we can be much more focused and specific about where we are and it doesn’t sweep up people in these kind of broad spectrum crime prevention campaigns that do work but also inadvertently affect larger groups that need to be involved. And I would also highlight the work of Tamara Herold in this work, which is identifying specific locations tied to, and I think this is the next level, is how do we bring in the social network and understanding the space because there are always specific groups that are disproportionately causing a whole pile of trouble for the communities.
In terms of a downside to some of this, and I think it's inadvertent, for reasons that have already been talked about, when you look at decades of unequal treatment and disparity and everything from housing and redlining to education and finance and insurance and healthcare and transportation infrastructure and access to socioeconomic opportunities, overwhelming the communities in especially the big cities that are most affected by the crime problems, the most victimized by them, are Black and Brown communities. And things like hot spots policing which we know works as a tactic to reduce crime and victimization, when we focus police resources in those locations, when we look at police activity, it appears to be overwhelmingly racially disproportionate, because what you ended up doing is putting all your police resources in the places where the communities need them the most. And what this inadvertently does is it allows, I would say, more naive or more advocacy-driven people rather than science-driven organizations to capitalize on that by using naive city-wide racial statistics to say look how disproportionate the police work is. Well, of course we're focusing the police in the areas that need them the most and that's the areas for a whole bunch of reasons, not necessarily related to police officers walking the streets today, that they're going to end up in. So, I worry that while it's been a great boon, and we know that overwhelmingly the research on hot spots policing does reduce crime, the Philadelphia foot patrol experiment was a really good example, we went from Newark that didn't reduce crime to, in Philadelphia, much more focused activity was able to reduce violent crime by 23%. But if you look at the activity, especially any kind of proactive activity, it appears racially disproportionate, because when you compare it to city-wide statistics, that's obviously we're not sending cops to the areas that are safer.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Tracie, did you want to respond to that?
TRACIE KEESEE: Yeah, I did.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Let’s be--yeah.
TRACIE KEESEE: You know me. We're not going to do this. We got 20 minutes. So, I would say I would be careful with the word naive, right, because Black folks in Black communities have known something has been different and off for long before I was alive, right? So, my mother can call it out and she's 82. And I think what we're saying here is all of us are saying the same thing. We have to do something very different, and that the spatial analysis allows us to do something very different beyond community policing. You're not going to say it but I'm going to say it, right? It is time for something different here. There's an exhaustion in Black and Brown communities around experiments, science, and doing something where they're not at the table and as you just mentioned, the bodegas are a business center, right? And if you are not, as a scientist, on the ground doing that work and understanding it, you're going to miss all of that. And that means that you're going to feed information to a law enforcement entity that is going to believe that there's a problem with that bodega. And labels matter, right? High crime. Whatever is happening in this community, and we take that as a form of law enforcement, we take that, and we use that. And I think we have an enormous opportunity here to say let's use this and say, “Bring all the actors to the table. Bring your tools. Sit with community members who are most affected and let's be creative.” Let the science do what I believe science was supposed to do and the reason why I went back to school and do it differently. And let's make sure it's holistically. I love what you're saying. It's holistically. And that means law enforcement cannot be the driver of everything. That means I need psychologists, social scientists, economists, and everybody at the table. Nancy's mixed methods. Everything has to happen here, and I think 100%.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: I'm going to pick it on the multidisciplinarity of the necessary...
ELIZABETH GROFF: In one minute.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: Very quick.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Okay.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: I think we need to, as scientists or pracademics, whichever is your role, you need to have different tools that you can use for different situations. So, when we approach lighting in Newark, we looked that concentration of crime near lights. When we look at distribution of crime, we look at places and how they connect at crime. You need to have different tools that allow you to deal with the different problems. And I think it's important that we bring people with different perceptions of the problem to the table because they're going to bring you something that you don't have. So, for example, we have a program on domestic violence where we want to use data to help them provide better services, or more focalized services, in areas that need them most, but we need somebody that is an expert on DV, on IPV, which is not my case. So, we bring in somebody from the prosecutor's office that has that training and can give the training to those groups. And then, we'll provide them with the data. But you need to bring different perspectives to help them get to that point.
I'm going to put a piece of data that we shared at our last meeting that I think is kind of my hope that we are getting to the right place. We shared at the meeting last week that arrests in Newark overall are down 45% over the last three years. A 45% reduction in overall arrests I think is really telling the story that there's other ways to deal with crime problems that are by arresting your way out of the problem. And we shared the data with the police chief, and we asked, “Did you see this?” And he said, “Well, this is great. We are doing a better job.”
How do you change those mentality? How do you get the police to understand that the community can play a role? And that is a mentality change where they need to understand that yes, of course, they always want to be better equipped to be first responders and be more reactive to crime problems but when it comes to crime prevention, the community can play a leading role. They can be part of the conversation, and they shall understand that is part of their job, that they should count on the community and the community can definitely part of this co-production effort or this co-creation effort of public safety.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Thank you, Alex. I'm going to let Jerry finish this out. It's already over, guys.
ALEJANDRO GIMENEZ SANTANA: Oh, wow.
ELIZABETH GROFF: I know. Can you believe it?
JERRY RATCLIFFE: The power, the power. All right. I think one of the next evolutions of where spatial analysis of crime is going is to understand the limitation, which is: crime mapping and spatial analysis tells you what's going on, but criminal intelligence and community information will tell you why. And you need both of those. You need all of those things together. There's a tendency to just look at a map of crime and, especially in a lot of police departments like “Let's okay, let's go send some cops there.”
Let me give you an example from Philadelphia from what we did years ago with a former graduate student. And we were mapping drug markets around Philadelphia, and you know how I like to do a little bit of field work, so I go out with one of the community officers. And these two drug markets on the map were identical and they're only about six or seven blocks apart. And because I was out with the community officer, he introduced me to a whole range of people, and we wandered around the neighborhoods, and everybody was saying hello to him. Just a great cop. And we go around the one that's near a transportation center, and we'd mapped this one and discovered that not only did we map where the drug arrests were, but we look at how far people were traveling to get arrested. And a lot of the people who were buying drugs were from outside the neighborhood and a lot of people who were selling drugs were from outside the neighborhood. It was around the transportation center. And when you spoke to the community members and you asked them what they wanted, and they said, “Can you just arrest these MFs? You know, we got these guys. Can you just come in here and do something about these guys and arrest them?”
And we walked seven blocks west into the neighborhood and on the map, it's appeared like a whole area with drug corners with drug arrests. But we'd mapped how far people traveled to buy drugs and sell drugs. And it was a block or two. It was people who were living in the neighborhood. And the officer walked around. We met a whole bunch of people that he knew there. And as we're walking around, they're kind of saying, “What would you like the police to do?” And we talked about it, and they went, “Oh, you know, yeah, but we know there’s a drug market and it’s causing some violence and we get it. But, you know, it’s my cousin, you know what I mean, it’s my sister’s kid. Is there anything else you can do from that?” And the crime analysis wouldn't tell you that. What the community information, to some degree the criminal intelligence what we got from a distance, what that would tell you is: this community in one place would be prepared to tolerate and support a very different kind of crime prevention campaign than the other. And so, I think that integration of more community information, such as the competition that Nancy announced at the IACP competition, as well as more understanding of social networks, as well just better mapping and understanding of what strategies those communities down at that level are willing to tolerate and to get behind is the next place for where we should be taking this.
ELIZABETH GROFF: Thank you very much. We’re out of here.
TRACIE KEESEE: We're out. Get out.
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