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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Network for Safe Communities
First Annual Conference
December 3, 2009
New York, NY

       Thank you, Tate. I'm pleased to be here.

       I'm also pleased that the National Network of Safe Communities has taken on the important work of bringing researchers together with practitioners. We've seen those partnerships taking hold in jurisdictions across the country, and it's encouraging - but we need more of them. The Attorney General has said over and over that we need to rely more on the evidence to drive our criminal justice policies and programs - to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime.

       One of OJP's most important roles - as I see it - is to help generate knowledge about what works - and what doesn't, for that matter - and to get that information out to the field in such a way that it can be used. This means sponsoring innovative work, evaluating it, and helping agencies adapt and put into place practices whose success is backed by the data.

       I think, unfortunately, that OJP's and the Department's role in promoting research and evidence-based practices has been marginalized in recent years, and I'm glad that we now have an Attorney General who cares about science - and who understands how it impacts policy. We also have a President who's made science a priority. You all know that President Obama has been vocal about his commitment to restoring the role of science, and his commitment is reflected in his recent nominations of John Laub and Jim Lynch for the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, respectively.

       I know John and Jim are familiar to many of you. John is a past President and fellow of the American Society of Criminology. In addition to his many other credentials, he was a member of the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academy of Sciences, and he's written extensively on a wide range of criminal and juvenile justice topics. At the moment, he's in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland.

       Jim was here yesterday doing a panel, I believe. He's the Vice President-elect of ASC. He's also a Distinguished Professor at John Jay College. And in addition to his many other areas of involvement, he served on the Committee on Law and Justice Statistics of the American Statistical Association, and he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel that evaluated BJS's programs.

       So we're very pleased that these two outstanding criminologists have been nominated for positions at OJP.

       In the meantime, we've been working in OJP for the last several months on an agency-wide effort to bring back the science. We call it the Evidence Integration Initiative, and it has three aims:

  • First, to improve the quantity and quality of evidence that we generate through our research, evaluation, and statistical functions.
  • Second, to better integrate evidence in program and policy decisions.
  • And third, to improve the translation of evidence into practice.

       Our goal is to help the field better understand what has been shown to work, based on accepted scientific principles. Specifically, we're looking at several steps:

  • We're working towards establishing common expectations and definitions for credible evidence across OJP programs.
  • We'll emphasize policies that will help generate more useful evidence from the programs we fund.
  • We intend to expand our efforts to launch randomized field experiments because we recognize the value of these approaches where it is feasible and appropriate to use them.
  • We plan to establish Evidence Integration Teams within OJP to synthesize evidence on specific justice topics and develop principles for practice that can be communicated to the field. We may start with a small number of topic areas and increase the number as we move forward.
  • Of course, we must also focus on how to best get information out to the field in a format that practitioners and policy makers can really use. We'll develop an evidence-based Web site - a sort of What Works and What's Promising Clearinghouse - and we hope to create a diagnostic center that will provide direct support to jurisdictions as they apply these approaches, with training and information at their disposal.

       This is what we're working toward. Of course, we're refining it as we go, but ultimately, we'll have in place a process to ensure that our research-to-practice efforts aren't evidence-based in name only.

       The principles that guide the drug market intervention and gang violence strategies that John Jay has helped to develop are good examples of the kind of data-driven approaches that we want to promote. We believe that focused deterrence, ensuring police legitimacy, and reaching offenders through the community are effective and necessary in reducing crime. We've seen it in High Point and in other cities. And in fact, OJP is supporting training to advance those concepts in other jurisdictions through our Drug Market Intervention program.

       There are many components to effective crime prevention, most of which are embraced in some form by the drug market and gang violence strategies. One is building trust between law enforcement and the community. This summer, we brought in Tom Tyler from the NYU Department of Psychology to have lunch with Eric Holder and to talk about his findings in the area of procedural justice. His research - and research from others - show a clear link between the success of the police in maintaining social order and the attitudes and the behaviors of people living in the neighborhoods and the communities being policed. In other words, police work can be made more difficult - even impossible - without the active cooperation of the people in the community.

       The Attorney General thought those findings were important enough to merit exploring how we can take that research and adapt it to police training - including the curriculum at Quantico.

       This idea of procedural justice gets to the problem of bias-based practices in policing. As we're all too aware, criminal justice agencies are saddled with a big PR problem. Too much attention in the past was paid to reflexive enforcement and too little given to solving problems. As I heard one law enforcement official put it - colorfully - carpet bombing instead of smart bombing. We now know how much damage that approach can do - and has done in many communities - and we need to work on repairing that damage.

       This has been a particular problem with youth. Research shows overwhelmingly clear evidence of what we call disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system. What's more, it shows that this can't be explained by the offending behavior of different racial groups. In other words, the rates at which minority youth come into contact with the justice system exceed - in many cases, far exceed - the rates at which they actually commit crimes.Various reasons have been offered for this disparity. One big reason is that law enforcement focuses its efforts much more intensely in minority neighborhoods, and that leads to this very antagonistic relationship between police and minority communities. And this is not only unfair, but counterproductive to public safety.

       Another component of successful crime reduction strategies is their focus on place and small offender populations as a key element. David Weisburd's research into place-based policing is timely because of the economic downturn - not because there's an established link between the economy and crime, but because law enforcement resources aren't as plentiful as they once were - if you can say they ever were plentiful. And so we're having to be very judicious about how we allocate those resources. But the interesting thing is that this idea of concentrating resources is more than just an economic imperative. It's just a better way to do business.

       I don't know how many of you have picked up Mark Kleiman's book, When Brute Force Fails. But he offers a good explanation of how focused deterrence works. He has a chapter in which he explains why targeting a limited population of offenders - a la the High Point model - actually reduces the probability of offending overall, in part because it delivers a credible threat of punishment.

       And not to conflate focused deterrence with hot spots policing, but we've also seen that hot spots policing has a similar effect, in that concentrating police resources in one area doesn't displace crime to other areas. Focus on place in law enforcement is part of an Administration-wide focus on place-based planning and programming. In August, the White House issued a memo directing federal agencies to focus on place-based practices in developing their budget priorities for the 2011 fiscal year. This focus on placed-based policing figures in prominently.

       And one final component of effective crime prevention that is part of the DMI and gang violence strategies - and that we embrace - is the promise of help to those who are at risk. It's not enough to provide better, more focused enforcement. There needs to be a legitimate opportunity for changing behaviors, especially for young people. We recently made $166 million in mentoring awards - and things like mentoring and after-school programs and other activities that allow young people to contribute have to be part of any crime prevention effort in order for it to be effective in the long run.

       So these are just a few thoughts on where OJP stands in its efforts to promote evidence-based approaches, in particular the principles behind DMI and gang violence strategies. I look forward to working with the National Network in getting information out to the field about those approaches.

       Thank you.

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