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Officers, EMS taking IU Northwest’s academic research to the streets

Analysis by criminal justice professor leads to innovative evidence-based decision-making to help agencies better allocate services

Monday Mar 11, 2013

Analyzing data from police and fire departments for insight on how to better allocate law enforcement and emergency services is nothing new. Large metropolitan cities like Chicago have entire staffs to do just that, but smaller urban areas like Northwest Indiana typically don’t have such resources.

What these communities do have is Joseph Ferrandino, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminal justice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University Northwest, and an entire brigade of criminal justice students.

Through IU Northwest’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence , which focuses on helping community partners drive positive change by co-creating solutions to their challenges, police and emergency agencies in the region now have access to sophisticated computer statistical analysis methods typically only available in large metropolitan cities.

In 2012, The Center introduced Ferrandino to Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram, who wanted to replicate a practice he’d been accustomed to when he worked for the Chicago Police Department. CompStat, short for Computer Statistics, is a concept first implemented in New York in 1994, in which crime is mapped geographically and discussed at regular meetings. This helps to identify patterns of activity in the city and tailor responses and deploy personnel accordingly.

When he came aboard the Gary PD, Chief Ingram wanted to be able to use statistical analysis in planning. He formed a crime suppression unit and called on Ferrandino as a resource.

“I knew how CompStat should go,” Chief Ingram said, “but I just didn’t have the technical skills.

Dr. Ferrandino has been taking our data and making it comprehensible  . . . It pretty much drives the way we do police work.”

The relationship has proven to be mutually beneficial.

“We use Dr. Ferrandino’s expertise to benefit the department and in return, he has real data, real life experiences to work with. Not academic, not theoretical, it’s real,” said Ingram.  ”I recognize the need for law enforcement and the academic community to work together.”

A growing following

Word of the successful partnership has spread. As a result, Ferrandino is busier than ever after developing several other community partnerships.

The latest agency to partner with Ferrandino is the East Chicago Police Department (ECPD). Much like he has done with other communities, Ferrandino and his students will analyze crime statistics and other data collected by the ECPD over the past five years to create a baseline for further study. Ferrandino will continue to map such information as the number of traffic injuries and fatalities, common times of traffic accidents, property damage, personal injury, and other data, and will present the findings at regular meetings with the ECPD.

“The level of expertise and technology that IU Northwest brings to the table is beyond our capability,” said ECPD Chief Mark Becker.

Ultimately, Becker said, this work will enable the department to employ a more proactive policing approach. It will help the department make decisions aimed at improving public safety, reducing traffic incidents, and deploying resources more effectively.

“Once we start getting the data, we can put it into the officers’ hands and empower them,” Becker said. “We can make better decisions about where to patrol, discover more about where the issues lie, and stay a step ahead.”

This type of analysis is among the many ways the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence helps regional agencies address challenges in Northwest Indiana communities, according to Ellen Szarleta, Ph.D., J.D., director of the Center and a faculty member in SPEA. The Center works collaboratively with organizations, with particular focus on the government and nonprofit sectors, to advance research, teaching and services.

“IU Northwest is committed to engaging with the community to address priorities and concerns that affect citizens,” Szarleta said. “The Center’s current projects address diverse areas including economic development, government efficiency, nonprofit leadership development, and transportation policy, as well as public safety.”

Not limited to police work

Ferrandino’s expertise is not limited to crime mapping, however. The Gary Fire Department has used his maps and analysis to optimize the operations of the city’s emergency responders. Ferrandino’s graduate-level statistics class is currently working on a full analysis of the fire department’s data for the past 10 years. By examining the department’s response times, as well as the concentration of and types of calls, the research is expected to help the department better allocate its resources.

Ferrandino’s crime-mapping expertise and its implications for local law enforcement have garnered national attention. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked him to write a two-year grant in support of Project Safe Neighborhoods, for which he will also serve in the role of research consultant. This nationwide program aims to stimulate innovative approaches to dealing with gun and gang violence and will include law enforcement agencies in Gary, East Chicago, Hammond and Grant County, which is the county of Marion, Ind. If accepted, the project would allow police departments in the area to broaden their capabilities and work together in teams to better focus their efforts in high crime areas.

Ferrandino said it is gratifying to put his academic and theoretical background to use in a practical way that directly impacts communities and their residents. He added that working with police and fire departments to map their statistics is important work that he never imagined he’d be able to do from his university post.

“It’s exciting to be involved in the actual policing of a community like East Chicago as opposed to just writing articles about it,” he said.

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