Preventing Harm and Proving a Negative:
New article calls for more research on public health approaches for law enforcement

Epidemiologist Dr. Mallory O'Brien, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, spends a lot of time thinking about “what ifs.”

What if that gun hadn't been sold to that woman? What if that woman hadn't been romantically involved with that man? What if that man hadn't had a taste for revenge stemming from a personal history rife with tragedy? What if the couple hadn't lived in a part of the city where crime is commonplace and the community is scarred by a violent history?

photo of the Milwakukee Homicide Review Commission logoIn other words, O'Brien works in prevention, and her project, the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission—which brings together police and other criminal justice professionals with community service providers to share information about violent crimes and craft preventive strategies—is just one of the public health/law enforcement partnerships highlighted in the new issue of the National Institute for Justice Journal.

The article, “Healthy Communities May Make Safe Communities: Public Health Approaches to Violence Prevention,” looks at how law enforcement executives, public health professionals, and researchers are trying to cement partnerships and bring promising preventive approaches into the mainstream. Another project highlighted is East Palo Alto's FIT Zones, which works off the idea that positive—or pro-social—community activities in public spaces can act as an antidote to gang activity. In the FIT Zones, police officers and community members participate together in local “hot spots” doing public activities that are healthy (e.g., bike riding and Zumba dancing) for the body, mind, and overall community.

While enthusiasm for these and like projects is spreading, the one challenge that continues is proving that these prevention efforts can work in the long run. The California Endowment, along with the COPS Office and the Center for Court Innovation, has recently been part of a new push for public health/public safety partnerships. As Barbara Raymond of The California Endowment explained, research is key for these projects to “make the leap into the mainstream and demonstrate that what makes us healthier also makes us safer.” And, as COPS Office Director Ronald Davis put it, when he was interviewed for “Healthy Communities May Make Safe Communities:” “The challenge of policing in the new economy is not to do more of the same with less; it is doing more things differently based on evidence and science.”

More research in this area, as called for in “Healthy Communities May Make Safe Communities,” will help collaborative prevention efforts prove that what didn't happen—the shots that weren't fired, the items that weren't stolen—was because of pioneering efforts.

Read the full article here.

Sarah Schweig
Center for Court Innovation

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