In 2017, leaders of the police department in Buffalo, New York, wanted a better sense of whether their efforts to reduce gun violence were working, particularly the practice of paying visits to the homes of young people considered at risk for getting into trouble.
The department turned to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which has long supported research that benefits communities and criminal justice agencies across the state. DCJS manages New York’s Criminal Justice Knowledge Bank, a reference repository, and the affiliated Research Consortium, which facilitates partnerships between local practitioners and college and university-based researchers to foster promising practices in law enforcement.
For example, the Buffalo police department partnered with researchers from the University of Buffalo and DCJS gave them a grant for an independent study. Researchers evaluated the department’s use of what are known as custom notifications for those at risk of committing gun violence or being shot, as well as its monitoring system for identifying locations that could become sites of gun violence. They also studied the social ties that connect shooting victims in the city.
The researchers found that the department was successfully identifying those at risk of using a firearm in a conflict for custom notifications. However, they also found ways that the department could improve its monitoring of and approaches to reducing gun-violence incidents. Based on one of these recommendations, the department automated crime report data on interactive maps so police officers could more easily access the information through a web browser.
DCJS then added the Buffalo findings to its Knowledge Bank, the statewide platform for sharing local practices and programs. The site also makes national research on best practices in public safety easily accessible to New York criminal justice agencies and the public.
DCJS uses federal Justice Assistance Grant funds intended for technical assistance to help local agencies fund consortium projects. The division sets a maximum of $50,000 for project grants, though most allocations have been for less, according to DCJS staff. Although relatively small, these investments typically provide enough to fund research that can lead to specific recommendations.
When the consortium launched in 2017, DCJS staff started with established networks. “We built on the coattails of existing relationships between practitioners and universities,’’ recalled Jessica Damrath, a policy analyst with DCJS who coordinates the work of the consortium. “There were a lot of these in the New York City area, Rochester, and Albany, but not in some areas further west and upstate.”
But Damrath and others worked in the early days of forming the network to expand connections in every area of the state.
Through the consortium, DCJS facilitates those connections and aids in a variety of research initiatives. Those can include community surveys of residents, people involved in the justice system, and law enforcement; data analysis of crime and victim records; and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of public safety programs.
Leigh Bates, research director in the DCJS Office of Justice Research and Performance, said the division has worked to ensure appropriate and ethical use of data for these studies.
“We help practitioners and researchers be clear about expectations for reporting, rights of jurisdictions to review, ensuring responsible data use, and publishing,” said Bates. Ultimately, the division makes sure the proposed research is practical and applicable for the law enforcement agencies at the local and state levels requesting the study. Division staff writes up a research brief with key findings to help the information reach a wider audience of criminal justice practitioners.
In addition to highlighting projects supported by the consortium, the Knowledge Bank promotes other resources that can inform the work of criminal justice professionals in New York. For example, the division produces Program Profiles, which summarize practices and programs throughout the state to share what is learned from local practitioners. These include accounts detailing gun violence reduction initiatives, court diversion programs, and data-driven policing strategies. Lastly, the Knowledge Bank provides links on its Resources page to national collections of research summaries on what works to reduce crime, including the Results First Clearinghouse Database.
In 2020, the division responded to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus by adding a COVID-19 Resources section that is updated regularly. This Knowledge Bank page provides New York law enforcement agencies with guidance and resources for adapting to pandemic-related challenges related to policing and administering justice.
The Knowledge Bank highlights the division’s strategy to promote, support, and fund evidence-based criminal justice programs designed to prevent crime and reduce repeat involvement in the legal system.
“We created the Knowledge Bank and Research Consortium because we are committed to promoting and expanding the use of data-driven research and evidence-based programs by criminal justice professionals,” said Michael C. Green, executive deputy commissioner of DCJS. “These platforms allow practitioners to learn from each other and collaborate with academics to expand the body of research that can be used to improve community safety and the effectiveness of criminal justice programs.”
Sara Dube is a director and Steve Lize is an officer with the Results First initiative.