ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The Justice Department is taking a closer look at why some cities are more successful than others in fighting crime. One place it's likely to look is Cincinnati. The police department there has an unusually close relationship with local criminologists. That collaboration is credited with helping to get repeat offenders off the streets. Ann Thompson of member station WVXU in Cincinnati has the story.
ANN THOMPSON: Just three years ago, crime was running rampant here in Cincinnati, and homicides had reached a record high. But researchers suggested that a very small number of criminals were responsible for a large number of those crimes. The University of Cincinnati researchers partnered with police and decided to try something new. Hundreds of known felons would be required to appear at the Hamilton County Courthouse to hear this message: The violence must stop or all gang members would be held responsible.
Twenty-eight-year-old Donte Ingram(ph) was on probation and still dealing drugs when he was ordered to attend that meeting. While there, he ignored the police threats, but did pay attention to offers of help through education and employment. Some weeks later, he called the number he received at the courthouse.
Mr. DONTE INGRAM: I'm not going to say exactly what I said on that message. But I'd said something to the tune of: if this stuff isn't real, if this is just another way for you to keep tabs on probation people, if this is that, then don't call me back. I'm not interested. But if you're really trying to help people, then give me a callback.
THOMPSON: Ingram and hundreds of others who've attended the courthouse sessions were targeted by the new program. Experts say while other cities have academic police department relationships, few closely share information. University researcher Robin Engel and her doctoral students gather information on criminal activity, including local gang-related violence, and repackage it in a more useable form.
Professor ROBIN ENGEL (Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati): I do not know any researcher in the country — in the world for that matter — that has full, unfettered access to data within a police department. I really think that that is unique.
THOMPSON: The program here is called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence and is based on a concept that David Kennedy first applied in Boston in 1996. Kennedy, now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says Cincinnati is doing everything right.
Professor DAVID KENNEDY (Anthropology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice): Nobody is moving the ball along the way Cincinnati is. Every single quarter, let's say, they are adding a new and important operational element to what they're doing.
THOMPSON: Information from UC researchers also helps in day-to-day patrols. In a weekly meeting with police captains, Engel points to graphs indicating a spike in robberies.
Prof. ENGEL: This chart demonstrates this is street robberies involving a firearm across the city. And what you see here goes back to June '07 and you…
THOMPSON: Police captains then share that information with their officers working the streets. Assistant Police Chief Vince Demasi leads the meetings and says the partnership is getting results.
Mr. VINCE DEMASI (Assistant Chief, Cincinnati Police Department): The more transparent we are as an agency, the better community relations that we have, so people really truly can understand what you're doing and why you're doing it.
THOMPSON: The Justice Department will fund research on which academic police partnerships have been successful and whether they can be exported to other cities. Georgia police researcher Mike Smith says Cincinnati's model may be difficult to fully replicate.
Mr. MIKE SMITH (Police Researcher): The difficulty with sort of transporting it other places is that - used to have, you know, a police agency that's willing to open itself up to an outside researcher. And you have to have a researcher who's - has the skills, both the academic skills but also the interpersonal skills to make that work.
THOMPSON: One person now touting Cincinnati's approach is Donte Ingram, the former drug dealer. He now works for the city as a street advocate, and is convinced he'll stay out of trouble.
Mr. INGRAM: I wouldn't go back for nothing. The worst thing I have to worry about is if I got my seat belt on or not.
THOMPSON: Since the collaboration began three years ago, more than 300 criminals have reached out for help. It's likely we'll see more academic police collaborations, as the Justice Department studies past partnerships and looks to fund new ones nationwide.
For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati.
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