By Matthew Kredell
Two academic centers at the USC Price School of Public Policy joined forces to help redefine public safety and criminal justice by collecting and disseminating new neighborhood-level criminal justice data for select communities across Los Angeles County.
With backing from Microsoft, the one-year Criminal Justice Data Initiative builds off the successful Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) platform designed and operated by the USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation.
The USC Safe Communities Institute is adding its expertise in bringing members of law enforcement and the community together to create safer communities through common understanding.
“This forum highlights one of the Price School’s great strengths, which is collaboration both within USC and between USC and the community,” said USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott.
Dean Knott stressed that this initiative comes at a critical time.
“We are in a situation where we need to increase trust and integrity between law enforcement, citizens and the community,” Dean Knott said. “To do this, we need a better understanding of the particular issues and challenges our communities are facing. The data on their own however are not sufficient. The new Criminal Justice Initiative also addresses the people element.”
The NDSC Criminal Justice Data Convening held Aug. 28 at USC’s University Club was the first opportunity to bring together community representatives and law enforcement to hear about the initiative and have conversations about what types of criminal justice data would be most useful in their work.
“Relying on data like Type 1 and Type 2 crimes is not the way to understand how to improve public safety in our communities and we must go beyond that,” asserted Gary Painter, director of the Price Center for Social Innovation. “… The goal is reliable, current neighborhood-level data to inform both community discussions and convenings, as well as help tell the stories around those data.”
Type 1 and Type 2 crimes are data on property crimes and violent crimes that have to be reported to the Department of Justice. Painter provided an example of the type of data that the NDSC Criminal Justice Data Initiative will explore.
Calls for police service in Los Angeles County have risen from 778,000 to 867,000. That could be taken as an indication that people feel more comfortable calling public safety officials, or alternatively, that there is more crime. Mapping the data shows unexpected results, noting a large number of public safety calls are coming from regions on the west side, an affluent area of Los Angeles County not normally associated with public safety concerns.
The NDSC platform can further break down the data to show that calls of service for “harm to person,” which can include calls related to crimes like assault or rape, have increased more than calls of service for public disorder, which can include disorderly conduct or noise violations. The Initiative will delve deeper into these data to better understand public safety trends in Los Angeles County and what they mean for the community.
Erroll Southers, director of the USC Safe Communities Institute, led a panel discussion with leaders from law enforcement and community organizations on what they hope will come from the NDSC Criminal Justice Data Initiative.
Southers quoted data scientist W. Edwards Deming, who said that without data you’re just another person with an opinion.
“One of the things we’re wresting with in this initiative is trying to put metrics to success and what does that mean,” Southers said. “In law enforcement, success unfortunately has always meant measuring negatives. We’re trying to determine can we measure positives and what should those positives be.”
Earl Paysinger, vice president of Civic Engagement at USC, spoke from his long background with the LAPD.
He explained that the LAPD and other law-enforcement agencies have gathered terabytes of crime data going back to the ‘40s and ‘50s looking at the spikes, trends and clusters of where crimes occur. Many decisions made in terms of deployment are based on that data, but he thinks something is missing.
“Law enforcement exists on a wide continuum, and a lot of times in law enforcement we tend to focus on the quantitative elements of that continuum – arrests, prosecution, the penal aspects – when I believe that there should be more emphasis placed on prevention, intervention and education,” Paysinger said. “But those elements of the criminal justice continuum take a long time to manifest themselves, and we tend not to be patient. … What’s missing in those gaps, those are the things we can get in conversations with people.”
Joumana Silyan Saba of the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department relayed criteria she would like to see the Criminal Justice Data Initiative explore – a community’s connectiveness, ability to access resources, what social cohesion and inclusion look like in neighborhoods, the connectiveness youth feel to their families, neighborhoods and peers.
“I think these are just some potential indicators we could look at in the relational level, community level and individual level,” Saba said. “These are things we have not thought about in terms of this idea of public safety. We need to break that cycle in our mindset of public safety being a law-enforcement issue. Obviously, it’s much bigger and broader than that.”
Fernando Rejon, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute warned that there is plenty of community-level data out there from nonprofit organizations such as his but that getting access to that data requires establishing trust.
“We need to start being creative and thinking through what data you can collect,” Rejon said. “… There has to be other resources given to community-based organizations that are providing the people who are collecting the data to uplift the larger strategy, individual community members and the organizations that are serving the people most impacted.”