October 14, 2011

Grant funds policing study in St. Louis County

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Tammy Rinehart Kochel, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is at the heart of a new partnership between the University and the St. Louis County Police Department.

Kochel is the recipient of a $400,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a component of the U. S. Department of Justice.  The grant, the largest the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice has ever received from NIJ, comes through the NIJ’s Building and Enhancing Criminal Justice Research and Practitioner Partnerships.

Kochel’s grant, “Assessing Effects of Hot Spots in Policing,” will promote Kochel working closely with the St. Louis County Police Department as she conducts her research.

“This is a splendid start to the new doctoral program (in criminology and criminal justice at SIU Carbondale) and a great achievement for Dr. Kochel, who is in her third year here,” Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and recently the chairperson of the department, said.

Hot spots policing (HSP) is an evidence-based practice that directs policing efforts into areas where most crimes occur.  Police officers can use their own knowledge of an area, combined with crime maps and data, to identify hot spots. The most basic form of hot spots policing is for officers to spend additional time in the identified “hot spots” during their regular patrol.  The evidence in support of this practice shows that the targeted response in these locations reduces incidents of crime in the patrolled area.

Kochel’s research goes one step further, and examines the other effects of hot spots policing -- namely, the effect of the practice on public opinion from residents of hot spots areas about the police, their neighborhoods, and their willingness to participate in efforts to improve neighborhood safety.  That side of the equation -- how the practice affects public perceptions of police legitimacy or if the practice leads to increased fear of crime -- has not yet been thoroughly researched.

As Kochel writes in her research proposal abstract:  “Police legitimacy can influence citizens’ willingness to: obey the law, support and cooperate with police, report crime and collaborate with police, and apply informal social control.  Fear can damage trust of police, reduce satisfaction and opinions about police effectiveness; and if citizens are fearful, they may be less inclined to act to promote safety and uphold neighborhood norms -- hindering collective efficacy, a well-documented neighborhood protection against crime.”

Kochel proposes to assess the effects of two hot spots strategies -- collaborative problem solving and directed patrol.  Collaborative problem solving, she explained, is designed to involve the community in problem solving meant to change conditions that may contribute to crime. 

The research will include 45 identified hot spots in St. Louis County.  Each area will become part of one of three experimental groups for six months -- one using directed patrol, one using collaborative problem solving and one maintaining standard policing.  Three waves of research in the form of adult citizen surveys, one before and two after the implementation of the research conditions, will help determine short- and long-term changes in attitudes toward police as a result of the hot spots policing methods.  Kochel noted that measures, including Automated Vehicle Location data and officer activity logs, will help ensure that the hot spots policing is implemented as planned.

Kochel added that since hot spots policing tends to focus on disadvantaged communities, often the same communities with the least favorable views of police, hot spots policing must not only prove effective but most also do so in such a way as not to inflame public opinion.  This research, she said, will help police departments choose effective strategies to use with hot spots policing that will prevent further alienation of the community and the police in those targeted areas.

Kochel expects to share her research not only with the academic community but with the law enforcement community as well, both by published reports and by presentations of her completed research at national conferences.

She will be assisted by SIU Carbondale colleague George Burruss, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and mentorship from David Weisburd, the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law and Criminal Justice and director of the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem and Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy at George Mason University.  Weisburd is the recipient of the 2010 Stockholm Prize in Criminology, an international award sponsored by the Swedish Ministry of Justice.  Weisburd received his award for his groundbreaking work in hot spots policing.

“This project is a wonderful example of how social science researchers can work together with professionals in the community to solve problems,” Kempf-Leonard said.  “In this situation, not only is it very likely the police department will learn which patrolling procedures are most effective, and also that public safety will improve for the many residents of St Louis County, but also that the results will be shared widely with scholars and police in such a way that the police departments and communities across the country will benefit.”