The Center for Public Safety Initiatives is a unique collaboration among RIT, the City of Rochester, and criminal justice agencies in New York.
Criminal Justice Professor John Klofas heads one of RIT’s longest running research programs, the work coming from the Center for Public Safety Initiatives (CPSI).
For more than 15 years, students and faculty associated with the center have helped law enforcement officials determine what programs may help prevent crime, although Klofas feels giving students the experience to do the research and publishing their findings is just as important.
“There’s no place in the country that does any of this,” Klofas said. “Our students have a great experience and it turns out well for them.”
About 40 people—including 10 to 12 criminal justice students—typically work at 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 the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
Their findings are posted in reports on the CPSI website and have been about perceptions the public has about police, community concerns and desires, homicide rates, domestic violence, recidivism of parolees, and most recently perceptions of opioid addiction.
“There’s a commitment to evidence-based initiatives. Data can be useful in addressing public safety issues, and we have helped fill the void,” Klofas said. “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.”
CPSI was created after Rochester began a research partnership in 2000 to address the problem of lethal violence in the city. That led to reformation 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, many of them criminal justice 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 toward 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 students to discuss their progress. One student each week makes a presentation to the group with their findings, often involving graphs of data on slides.
“I like the whole analytical side of things, looking at data to see if intervention would work,” said Nate Le Mahieu, a graduate criminal justice student from Hortonville, Wis., who works as a research assistant at CPSI.
Le Mahieu helped conduct a survey of nearly 350 people who attended last spring’s Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival about their views on opioid addiction and treatment options. The results showed few thought drug abusers should be treated as criminals, and 90 percent believed anti-overdose medications should be more available. The data suggests “the value of reframing our thinking about the nature of drug problems and society’s response to them,” the survey report concludes.
Findings from CPSI’s research have resulted 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.
“RIT’s program is very strong in research and statistics,” said Mark Gorthy ’90 (criminal justice), who works for the Rochester Police Department as managing analyst at the Monroe Crime Analysis Center. “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.”
It has been beneficial for CPSI alumni as well, who have gone on to work for police departments and mapping and crime analysis companies. Six have earned or are earning their Ph.D.s.
In a project that has been underway for several months, 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, including whether the victim and suspect knew one another or had previous arguments, the time of day, the education of those involved, and even the weather.
“There’s not another database like that in the country,” Klofas said. “It’s groundbreaking.”
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 using these tools to identify patterns before anyone else would.”
Center for Public Safety Initiatives: rit.edu/cpsi
Here are a few projects from RIT’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives:
Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE)
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” most 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 will implement 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. The CPSI will evaluate its effectiveness.
Community Views on Criminal Justice
Business owners, church leaders, and others in the community are surveyed to determine their thoughts on police and the criminal justice system. The focus groups document the perceptions the community has, whether or not those perceptions are accurate.
Project Safe Neighborhoods
A large database is being compiled with data associated with gun violence in Rochester in hopes of preventing future crime by identifying, assessing, and intervening in situations where the 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 preventive measures.
Pawn Shop Analysis
A series of five papers can be found on the CPSI website (www.rit.edu/cpsi) related to pawn shops in Rochester. Although many may be legitimate businesses, questions of crime and stolen property remain a focus for law enforcement fearing 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.
In 2010, more calls (1,114) were made to 911 to respond to the Walmart 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 respond to the Walmart in nearby Gates, N.Y.