Historically speaking, researchers have been outsiders in the problem solving process. That is, they have been observers, not participants, in criminal justice program development and implementation. And, more commonly than not, researchers were brought in as independent evaluators of impact after the program or initiative had started, or even ended. In the best situation, the researchers were able to produce an evaluation that informed the scientific community and provided an after-the-fact assessment of impact for criminal justice professionals. All too often, however, these circumstances created an environment not conducive to a well done evaluation, no feedback to support effective implementation, and typically left all parties involved dissatisfied.
In the mid-1990s, the paradigm began to shift. With support from the National Institute of Justice, specifically Lois Felson Mock, we began to see active and ongoing partnerships between researchers and law enforcement agencies. The research process started playing a role in helping to solve local problems. This process is summarized by four steps:
1) Data collection to identify and understand problems
2) Strategic analysis to develop targeted interventions
3) Program monitoring and feedback for refinement
4) Assessment of impact
What is Project Safe Neighborhoods?
Unlike the other initiatives which were created in local jurisdictions, Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) was created as a national program. PSN was designed in 2001 by officials in the U.S. Department of Justice. PSN was coordinated through 93 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices that encompass the United States and its territories. In designing PSN, the U.S. Department of Justice emphasized five core components: partnerships, strategic planning, training, outreach, and accountability. PSN proposed to increase partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies through the formation of a local gun crime reduction task force. Additionally, PSN encouraged establishing partnerships with other sectors of local government, social services, community groups, and citizens to increase resources for gun crime prevention components as well as to increase the legitimacy of interventions.
The strategic planning and problem solving component of PSN was designed to help jurisdictions tailor PSN to the local context. Specifically, PSN provided resources for the inclusion of a research partner. The research partner would work with the PSN task force to analyze the local gun crime problem and to share the findings with the task force for the development of a proactive plan for gun crime reduction. And, the research partner would assist in the ongoing assessment of the program implementation and provide feedback to the task force. Finally, PSN included a significant commitment of resources to support training and community outreach.