Criminal justice team studies crime trends with an eye on prevention

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A. Sue Weisler

Criminal Justice Professor John Klofas, far right, in one of the weekly meetings of the Center for Public Safety Initiatives team, in which the group discusses current crime trends and their latest research on crime prevention programs.

With violence around the world continually making headlines, a group of RIT criminal justice faculty, staff and students is methodically researching why crime occurs in the Rochester area and what programs work to help prevent it.

RIT’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives (CPSI) has partnered with the Rochester Police Department and state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) for more than 15 years, conducting research on more than a dozen projects at any given time, varying from gun violence in Rochester, domestic violence, how the community perceives police and whether programs to prevent released offenders from committing further crimes are successful.

“There’s a commitment to evidence-based initiatives,” said John Klofas, criminal justice professor and founder and director of CPSI. “This is a new skillset, different than the skillset police officers bring. And that’s a big change, one that requires efforts by local jurisdictions and monitoring of the implementation of the programs. The police are very supportive of this.”

About 40 people—including 10 to 12 criminal justice students—typically work at the CPSI with a $2 million annual budget that is totally funded through various sources and contracts outside of RIT, including federal and state agencies such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice and DCJS.

Their findings are posted in reports on the CPSI website and emailed to hundreds of people at various agencies around the world.

And those findings are resulting in changes. Rochester officials passed an ordinance requiring electronic reporting by pawn stores after a CPSI study questioned whether items traded might be legally pawned or stolen. And police increased enforcement and worked more closely with businesses that buy scrap metal after their study showed a direct correlation to an increase in copper thefts when the price paid for copper rises.

“We’re providing a substantial amount of information the Rochester Police Department is working on,” Klofas said. “And we’re seeing interest from other police departments across the country in what we’re doing.”

Another recent study found that dispute-related crime is on the rise in the city of Rochester.

“More than 60 percent of shootings are traced to ongoing disputes,” Klofas said. That statistic helps police assess the risk of violence, letting them intervene before problems escalate.

CPSI was created after Rochester began a research partnership in 2000 to address the problem of lethal violence in the city. That led to reformulation of crime analysis at the Rochester Police Department and the model for the Monroe Crime Analysis Center (MCAC) and other analysis centers across the state supported by DCJS.

The local analysis center’s key staff began as RIT students working for CPSI. It was a logical link because RIT already was teaching students research on crime analysis, Klofas said.

“The opportunity to really combine research with an experiential learning experience is very important,” Klofas said. “And our students are addressing social issues and problems. The work of the center is really oriented towards locally relevant research. The ability to help communities gather and use data at the local level is important.”

Klofas and the center’s deputy director, Irshad Altheimer, an associate professor of criminal justice, regularly meet with the team to discuss progress. And the connection with Rochester police and MCAC remains strong: a third of the 30 analysts in the center’s eight-year history were CPSI employees, including criminal justice and applied statistics graduates from RIT.

“RIT’s program is very strong in research and statistics,” said Mark Gorthy, a 1990 graduate from RIT’s criminal justice program who works for the RPD as managing analyst at MCAC. “We work very closely with them and their students doing practical research. I can’t stress enough the importance of the partnership with RIT and CPSI. It has just been tremendous.”

In a project currently underway, a CPSI student spends three days a week downtown compiling a database of information from every shooting in Rochester where someone was injured or killed. Hundreds of variables are included, such as whether the victim and suspect knew one another, had previous arguments, the time of day of the crime, the education of those involved—even the weather. “There’s not another database like that in the country,” Klofas said.

Gorthy agrees.

“I think it will give the most detailed view on the context and nature of the shooting incidents,” he said. “Our analysts are trying to use these tools to identify patterns before anyone else would.”

A look at CPSI’s work

RIT’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives is engaged in a variety of initiatives, including:

Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) Evaluation—Researchers visit police departments and parole, probation and district attorney offices in 17 counties across the state to evaluate strategies involving problem-oriented policing and focused deterrence. Strategies have involved identifying “hot-spots” prone to gun violence; focusing deterrence against violent gangs or groups considered responsible for most gun violence; increased supervision of those on parole or probation; and outreach to interrupt cycles of violence to prevent retaliation.

Swift, Certain and Fair—New York state’s Department of Probation implemented this program on Jan. 1. Based on Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) initiative used for drug offenses, swift, definitive consequences will be implemented for probation and parole high-level offenders through a collaboration of various criminal justice agencies. CPSI will evaluate its effectiveness.

Community Views on Criminal Justice—With growing nationwide concern over policing, CPSI is conducting an ongoing assessment of police-community relations in Rochester. Neighborhood residents, business owners, church leaders and others in the community are interviewed to determine their thoughts on police and the criminal justice system. The focus groups document perceptions in the community.

Project Safe Neighborhoods—A large database is being compiled with details from gun violence in Rochester in hopes of preventing future crime by identifying, assessing and intervening in situations where probability of dispute-related gun violence is believed to be high. If trends such as times of day, days of the week, locations or other variables are high when shootings occur, police can attempt to step up patrols or take other preventative measures.

Pawn Shop Analysis—A series of five papers can be found on the CPSI website related to pawn shops in Rochester. Although many may be legitimate businesses, questions of crime and stolen property remain a focus for law enforcement, believing some shops may be in business to buy stolen property. Most shops are located in areas of Rochester with poverty and high burglary risk. More than 20 percent of items sold were jewelry, but televisions and cameras were also often pawned. Of customers determined to be “highly active pawners,” 84 percent had previously been arrested.

Wal-Mart Project—In 2010, more calls (1,114) were made to 911 to the Wal-Mart location on Hudson Avenue in Rochester than to any other location in the city. The study looked at the call volume, nature and time spent on the calls and what time of day the calls occurred. They concluded nearly half of the calls were for larcenies, and peak calls were from 2 to 7 p.m., with Fridays being the day with most calls. The calls were also compared to calls to the Wal-Mart in the nearby suburb of Gates, N.Y.