group of people standing in front of the Carbondale City Hall

Members of a research team from Southern Illinois University Carbondale stand outside the Carbondale Civic Center. The team, led by Tammy Kochel, associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services at SIU, is studying gun violence in Carbondale with funding from the city. From left: Colleen Bader, doctoral student; Matthew West, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice; Rachel Reardon, doctoral student; Justin McDaniel, associate professor of public health; Kochel, and Jacob Halvorson, graduate student. Not pictured: Sarah Buila, associate professor, social work; Paul Brinker, instructor of social work, and Seyvan Nouri, doctoral student. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

July 19, 2022

SIU researchers, students looking at factors related to gun violence in Carbondale

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A nationwide spate of mass shootings, coupled with occasional gunfire locally, is prompting Southern Illinois University Carbondale and its hometown to cooperate on research looking for solutions.

Tammy Kochel, associate dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at SIU, is heading up a study aimed at dissecting the causes and patterns associated with gun violence in Carbondale. The city council is providing more than $64,000 for the study, which centers on information gathered from online surveys, interviews and a small group meeting, along with official data sources from Carbondale.

Study is underway

Kochel, along with other faculty, three doctoral students and one master’s student, began researching the issue at beginning of the summer, gathering data from local police and first responders. The data should provide a window into the number of incidents, geographic patterns and environmental conditions that might contribute to their occurrence.

The issue is one of public health, Kochel said, and although this is a national dilemma, city leaders must tailor solutions based on local factors. The team’s findings are expected to be available in the fall.

“We hope our report describes the specific nature of gun violence in Carbondale and the types of evidence-based and promising solutions that have worked for similar gun violence problems,” Kochel said. “We hope it will be used to guide service providers and to make funding decisions.”

Along with the online survey, which takes less than 10 minutes to complete, Kochel and her students have conducted systematic individual interviews with key people from local organizations with a stake in in addressing gun violence. They also have held one facilitated focus group meeting among local stakeholders, such as emergency room personnel, middle school social workers, high school social workers, and law enforcement to gather further perspectives.

In addition to analyzing the geographic patterns of incidents, the researchers will look at relationships among gun assaults, gun homicides, and anonymous arrest data to try to understand trends associated with the issue. They also will analyze anonymous Memorial Hospital of Carbondale emergency room discharge information on both fatal and nonfatal firearm cases, as well as conduct geographic and temporal analysis of Jackson County Department of Public Health Emergency Medical Services calls for service data for firearm injuries.

Kochel previously worked with police and local partners in Springfield in analyzing the nature of gun violence there. In that case, the city pursued an approach known as focused deterrence aimed at mitigating shootings and retaliation among local gangs. As part of that effort, Springfield police added a geographic focus, including some directed patrols.

Survey method to reveal experience, perceptions

In the ongoing Carbondale effort, Kochel’s work partly relies on the results of a survey in which community members will tell researchers their experiences with gun violence and perceptions of residents. Such input provides an important complement to police, EMS and criminal justice data, she said.

“It tells us the impact that gun violence is having on people’s day-to-day lives, the perceived drivers from residents who live this issue out in their day-to-day lives, as well as known programming in different parts of the city,” Kochel said.

The research team currently is focusing on the immediate drivers of the problem in Carbondale. Kochel hopes this problem-solving perspective will uncover patterns – such as time of day, day of week and geographic factors – that will help city officials be proactive. They also hope to uncover why gun violence is happening where and when it does, and why it impacts the particular people involved.

“We want to assess what happens immediately prior to incidents,” Kochel said. “We are studying environmental conditions, such as guardianship in affected areas, social activities and land use in the affected areas and times, and co-occurrence of any other problem behaviors.”

SIU sends a team to help

Kochel is joined on the effort by SIU faculty members Justin McDaniel, associate professor of public health, and Sarah Buila, associate professor of social work, Paul Brinker, instructor of social work, and Matthew West, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice.

Students also play a vital role in gathering and analyzing information. They include master’s student Jacob Halvorson, and doctoral students Colleen Bader, Seyvan Nouri and Rachel Reardon.

Halvorson said he has attended several one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders, as well as a focus group of people whose jobs are impacted by gun violence in Carbondale. He will turn his notes into qualitative data for analysis and also will collect data related to incidents of gun violence in Carbondale from the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“I wanted to be involved in this project because I am passionate about applying scientific research to address social issues, particularly those related to our criminal justice system, said Halvorson, who hopes to pursue a career in criminal justice after graduation. “It will help me better understand both the root causes and consequences of gun violence, and will be an invaluable experience.”

Nouri’s role is analyzing data using his expertise in computational methods. He enjoys the challenge and also to enhance public safety using data-driven solutions.

“Policing has always been of great interest to me due to the sensitive relationship between the community and the police officers,” Nouri said. “The project will help me better understand the tactics being used by the police and how they suppress crime and other social issues.”

Bader is serving as a survey data collector, data analyst and report writer on the project. She said she jumped at the chance to work with Kochel on another project.

“Whenever I work on projects or studies with Dr. Kochel, I get a strong feeling that I am personally making a positive difference in people’s lives,” said Bader, whose long-term goal is to use and teach data analysis in fields where data is underutilized.