Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Social Network Analysis And Soft Deterrence Worked In Kansas City

UMKC  |  The approach calls for conducting an audit of violent criminals, mapping their connections and using those connections to encourage criminals to police themselves. If a crime is committed, the police can then go after the perpetrator’s entire group – nabbing members for even petty offenses.

“The fact of the matter is, the group members we’re talking about aren’t afraid of police – and they’re not too scared of the prospect of getting arrested. Going to jail is just part of doing business,” Novak said. “But they’re scared to death of people in their social network, like friends, cousins, etc. People in their social network are more effective at regulating their behavior than the criminal justice system.”

In 2013 Fox began helping police conduct social network audits of the area’s criminals. Forty groups or gangs were identified and mapped so the nuances of their leaders and connections to each other could be easily understood.

“Violence spreads much like disease in the network,” Fox said.

As part of focused deterrence, law enforcement reach out to key people in criminal groups through quarterly meetings to get out the message that violence will not be tolerated. If one person in the group missteps, they are told, everyone in the group will be targeted for everything from parole violations to parking tickets to unpaid child support.

“The law enforcement representatives will say, ‘The next group to commit a homicide, we’re going to focus all our law enforcement on all of your group,’ ” Novak said.

The effort also involves offering group members access to social services to help them escape a life of crime.

Novak and Fox are embedded researchers in the project, which is very different from the neutral, observe-only role academics usually take. In this case, they are purposely involved in policy and decision making, such as participating in planning meetings and conducting training with criminal justice officials. This model of “action research” is endorsed and recommended by the US Department of Justice.

The result for the researchers is a first-hand grasp of the process as it unfolds, which they hope provides insight for their research.

“It may be the wave of the future for criminologists,” Novak said.

Focused deterrence has helped reduce crime in Boston, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and High Point, N.C. Novak and Fox say it’s too early to tell whether declining violent crime numbers in Kansas City so far this year can be credited with its implementation here.

But Joseph McHale, a captain in the Kansas City Police Department who manages the NoVA program in that department, said he’s certain a 37 percent reduction in homicides is directly connected to NoVA’s efforts and its work with UMKC.

“We are getting ahead of violence and using intelligence in a way that we never have before,” McHale said.

In the past, a lot of crime fighting has been based on tradition or gut. But through this project, the UMKC professors are helping the area’s top crime fighters – along with the street-level cops – understand the importance of valid and reliable data in making decisions.

Mike Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, said the result will be a long-term change.

“We don’t look at it as a project or a specific effort,” he said. “It’s more a shift in the way law enforcement is approaching the problem of violence.”


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