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NIJ Journal 276: Director's Message

Date Published
January 24, 2016

As this issue goes to press, I am just returning from the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and getting ready to attend the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology. Both of these major events are exciting opportunities to share stories face-to-face about the ways research and development (R&D) are helping practitioners and policymakers make decisions about criminal justice issues. The NIJ Journal offers another way — via the written word — to illustrate the impact of R&D.

The cover story for this issue is a great example. It contains several fascinating examples of the ways researchers and practitioners are collaborating to improve forensic science fields and advance justice. We have a related article by John M. Butler, Ph.D., reflecting on his prolific career and the impact of NIJ funding on his forensic science research.

The article about housing foreclosures also shows the benefits of R&D. NIJ scientists working with community groups wanted to confirm or refute the popular notion that houses sitting empty attract criminal activity. We funded three studies that used different rigorous methods in different locations around the country. Each study has limitations, but together they tell us there is no clear link between foreclosures and bank-owned properties and increases in neighborhood crime. The research is proving useful not only for civic leaders and law enforcement officials, but also for the mortgage bankers who live and work in our communities.

The findings about the impact of elder abuse forensic centers are another good example. Social services practitioners have suspected that multidisciplinary teams devoted to ending elder abuse are beneficial, but they did not have evidence about the precise nature of the impact. Through a competitive solicitation process, NIJ invested in studies of one multidisciplinary model, the elder abuse forensic center. The scientists identified evidence that the centers help prosecutors and victims alike and showed that they can help reduce recurrence of abuse. The studies also found that the multidisciplinary team approach carries a higher price tag than the traditional approach, but the scientists noted that the higher cost is modest compared with the health costs associated with continued abuse.

I especially like the story about how a Salt Lake homicide detective started using isotope ratio analysis to solve cold cases. When he learned that scientists were discovering ways to tell where a person is from by analyzing hair, he asked for their help in putting a name to a long-unidentified Jane Doe. Thanks to the latest R&D and his hard work, he was able to get a fix on where Jane Doe was from and, eventually, to identify her. He has not yet found her murderer, but having her name has been a significant event in the case.

I was also pleased to see the article by Captain James Nolette, one of the beneficiaries of the strong partnership between NIJ and IACP. Our shared goal is to infuse research into police work. One way NIJ is doing that is by supporting up-and-coming police leaders and introducing them to the inner workings of IACP and NIJ. In his article "Using Research to Move Policing Forward," Captain Nolette writes about how his department in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is using research to improve criminal investigations. As regular readers know, one of my priorities is helping emerging leaders and scholars. So thank you, Captain Nolette, for contributing to our magazine.

We are happy to share these latest findings with you and hope you find them as interesting as I do.

Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Justice

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Research and development
Date Published: January 24, 2016