Justice Today

Driving Down Gun Violence (Part Two)

June 12, 2023 National Institute of Justice Season 2 Episode 8
Justice Today
Driving Down Gun Violence (Part Two)
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Three LEADS Scholars serving in different law enforcement agencies and positions discuss their experiences with identifying and implementing evidence-based interventions to reduce gun violence. NIJ Senior Advisor Dr. Tamara Herold hosts this conversation with guests Police Chief Cecilia Ashe (Milford Delaware Police Department), Chief of Staff Lieutenant Matthew Barter (Manchester, NH Police Department), and Analytical Services Manager Mr. Jason Schiess (Durham, NC Police Department). 

LEADS, which stands for Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science, is designed to increase the research capabilities of law enforcement professionals and agencies. Since 2014, yearly cohorts of selected policing professionals are provided access to programming that connects current and emerging police leaders with evidence-based research to advance justice. Learn about more about these LEADS scholars, their challenges and triumphs, and how they embraced science to tackle gun crime in their jurisdictions. Read the transcript.

Listen to part one of this episode.  

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SPEAKER 1: Welcome to Justice Today, the official podcast of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, where we shine a light on cutting edge research and practices and offer an in-depth look at what we're doing to meet the biggest public safety challenges of our time. Join us as we explore how funded science and technology help us achieve strong communities. 

TAMARA HEROLD: Hello, everyone, I'm Dr. Tamara Herold. I'm a Senior Adviser to NIJ Director, Dr. Nancy La Vigne. In my current role, I'm working to promote NIJ's evidence to action initiative. This is the second half of my conversation with three policing professionals who have championed the use of science and evidence to reduce gun violence victimization. Mr. Jason Schiess, Lt. Matthew Barter, and Chief Cecilia Ashe are gun violence experts who serve in different roles across different jurisdictions but are all members of NIJ’s Law Enforcement Advancing Data in Science Program, known as the LEADS Program. 

Chief, in one of our prior conversations, you said something that I strongly believe, you said that adopting evidence-based strategies helps to guide us toward meaningful police reform, and that adopting multi-layered approaches to gun violence reductions is really the way to go. There's no silver bullet to solve our very complex public safety problems. I think we'd all agree with that. Why do you think using research evidence and embracing a multi-faceted approach is critical to achieving the effective, efficient, ethical, and equitable results that we're looking for? 

CECILIA ASHE: Well, I think, Tamara, it goes exactly to what Jason said, which is, "How do we make these things sustainable?" The reality for communities, the reality for police executives is, we are not going to police our way out of this. We're not going to arrest our way out of this. That's not the solution. So we have to look at research-based, proven methods that are multi-layered, right? That don't just engage police departments and law enforcement executives. We have to engage community outreach people like what Matt was talking about. And really what that comes down to is when we look at the GVI model, for me that is the holistic approach, right? Because you're going to the people who have the highest propensity for violence, you're not targeting an entire community with a zero-tolerance approach because all that does is inflict distrust with those communities. Matter of fact, what you're doing is you're going to the people who have the highest propensity for violence, and you're saying, "We're going to afford you this opportunity through social services." And here in Delaware, we've had phenomenal results with that. You know, with Director Cook, when we're looking at these things and we're trying to engage this community, we have our director of GVI that's going out. I want to say it's probably like 243 people that we've made contact with. We, I would say, I'd have to confirm it with Dr. Kennedy, but I would say we have the highest engagement level in those services with an 83% engagement level with these offenders. And what we're doing is, the police, the community, and everybody is coming together and saying we're not going to tolerate this violence anymore. And what you're doing is you're lending a helping hand to people who, you know, in some cases have, you know, been, you know, the result of some of that systemic racism within our government and within our system. 

TAMARA HEROLD: Absolutely. And Lt. Barter, I think you'd agree with Chief Ashe. You also believe in grounding police strategy in research evidence to achieve desired outcomes and working with partners across the community. But not everybody shares this perspective. Why do you think some in the policing profession have been slow to embrace science, and what do you see is one of the greatest challenges to adopting evidence-based policing strategies? 

MATTHEW BARTER: Yeah, it's vitally important to embrace these other strategies. And I think that the biggest hurdles there is just, first, getting the buy-in as folks go up the ranks in PDs. It's getting their buy-in, they come from maybe one mindset of, you know, being another patrol officer, investigator, and they have that mindset and shifting that mindset as they move into leadership is really important. And that can be a challenge sometimes. When everything before that is just about enforcement and clearing a case or making an arrest, and that's what we incentivize through evaluations and things like that, it can be very difficult to then change mindsets to the fact that there are other things that we can do that are not enforcement-based that can help solve this problem. I do believe enforcement is part of the solution, right? We do need to have to good policing and we do need to have an enforcement perspective. But there's a lot of other things that we can do that work as well. And so it's changing, honestly, it's like I talk to my kids about having a growth mindset and not just a fixed mindset, right? We need our cops to have a growth mindset, and to think more broadly about these things. So it's constantly trying to gain buy-in. One of the challenges we run up against with Project Connect that I talked about earlier was, there will be slip-ups, right? And there will be folks, some of the influencers that we refer to Project Connect for outreach, there's a good chance they will mess up and that they will get arrested. And when that happens, I see the eye rolls in the room when we have our gun crime meetings and I see the, "Oh, yeah, this program's working great." And the sarcasm, whatever it might be, and so it's trying to change that perspective of, "Okay, yup, they're maybe setting expectations," right? And so there's likely going to be mess ups. But it doesn't mean that it's a complete failure, and we do evaluate this. So it's trying to promote that buy-in every chance that we get, and trying to kind of change the mind and have that growth mindset throughout everybody at the PD. 

TAMARA HEROLD: It's so true. And speaking of thinking broadly, Mr. Schiess, you've talked about how the--and the way in which we approach data can be key to gaining that buy-in, both at the line level and among leadership. What specific advice do you have for police managers and analysts listening in regard to this? 

JASON SCHIESS: Well, Dr. Herold, I really think this is where the art of analysis meets the science, okay? And an analyst has to be willing to pull on that data thread, but not go down the rabbit hole. So I was referring to Operation Bullseye earlier in your question and what was kind of interesting about how this organically came to fruition in the way of initiative is, it's not like we went to anybody who had any knowledge of crime in East Durham or the last 20 years and said, "Hey, did you know there's violent gun crime in East Durham?" And they were like, "No, really? I had no idea." But what was key about this is putting form and definition around the problem, giving it a specific boundary, giving it specific quantifiable information around the who, the what, the when, and the why. And to not make the data so scary, you have to make the data consumable, not just cite the fact that we don't have to start over here, we can draw on other research. You don't have to reinvent things. But then apply that research to how you do business in your particular city. So I think that's really key. And then the other part of it in terms of buy-in is you have to talk to line officers. Line officers with their sergeants, corporals if you have them in your agency, this is where the work happens. And inevitably, there will be those parking lot conversations that occur before roll call or after the shift is over, and you want those to be positive. And if officers understand the why of what they're doing, they want to solve problems. If all they're hearing is just simply a mandate without understanding the reason why they're doing it, they're less likely to engage in that fully, and you're not going to get all the data that you want out of what they are accomplishing, but you're not going to have the same buy-in and I think that's really key and sometimes we miss that step. 

TAMARA HEROLD: Yeah, and I've missed that step myself in the past and I know how critical that can be to the success of a project, so absolutely excellent advice. Lt. Barter, if you could please build upon this, what's your secret to promoting evidence-based strategies to achieve the success that you've achieved in Manchester? How do you win over those who are research-resistant? 

MATTHEW BARTER: Yeah, it's starts over a lot of what Jason said and it's explaining the why. And that's probably one of the biggest challenges we have especially with the newer officers and newer generation officers, they expect the why, they expect a why they're checking a box in a report or why they're going to a certain area in the city. And we have to give that to them. So that's number one. Number two, it's just beating the drum. And it's talking about this and why it's important over and over. Not just when the initiative begins, not just when something good happens, but constantly doing it and having that really good communication, and bringing up, saying the words "evidence-based practice" or "evidence-based policing" over and over until it becomes a part of the vernacular these cops are talking about. And that's what we try to do here and I certainly try to do and being example of like by going to roll calls, by talking about it in our gun crime meetings, and the command staff meetings, and bringing up those words and talking about why it's important for everything we do, not just on gun violence issues, but across the board. It's just constantly beating that drum until it becomes part of the culture. And where I know that we've had some success is when I hear, you know, a captain or somebody else use the words "evidence-based" in their talk about what their expectation is of their officers, and that's a win, that's probably the biggest win you can get, but it was why we got to keep talking about it at every chance that we can, so it just becomes part of the culture. 

TAMARA HEROLD: That's a massive win. 


TAMARA HEROLD: And you can hear them echo those words, right? Chief Ashe, you've described your leadership approach as being akin to an athlete in training. I think this is brilliant. You've said, you know, you're constantly adjusting to make improvements as an executive and within your agency. If we can, let's please close with your advice to police leaders who are looking for solutions to complex problems, including gun violence. 

CECILIA ASHE: So first, let me put the caveat that thank God this is a podcast because if you look at me, you wouldn't know that there is that athlete mentality. But with that being said, I think--yeah, it's about, you know, as an athlete, you know, you constantly--if you're going. be good at what you do, you constantly have to be reviewing the place, figuring out different ways to go about things, right? And, you know, as an executive, you know, you sit back and say to yourself, "God, do I have to have all the answers?" Well, no, you don't. And so what I would say to other police executives and people that are trying to, you know, forge the way to evidence-based strategies is exactly that, stop the guessing game. Really look at what is out there because there is research that can be, you know, fit to your agency. You know, often, you know, you come from a smaller agency like I have, and you sit in the room and you listen to these things and you say, "That can't--that's not applicable to my agency. I'm not 30,000-strong. I'm not 8,000-strong. I have 300 or I have 37 officers. How am I going to do this?" Right? But it's about adjusting, keeping your game, staying on top of, you know, educating yourself and constantly improving and focusing on what works. And really just holding steady on that and, you know, I think you find the sustainability in success and, you know, just like an athlete, as I said, you have to just keep educating yourself and go to the resources like NIJ and BJA and all of these things that are out there for, you know, law enforcement leaders. And to Matt's point, you have to make it contagious within your agency. You can't, you know--you have to train to policies, you have to train to evidence-based stuff. You can't train to culture. And that's really, you know, where a lot of these, you know, agencies need to change when it comes to police reform, it's not training to your culture, but really training to what are the best practices that are going to lead the way. Because as we talk about these numbers, the reality is these are people's lives. These are people's sons, daughters, mothers, sisters, brothers. These aren't just numbers. And you have a group of individuals like Jason, Matt, everybody in this LEADS Program--people across this country that really are trying to bring justice and equity to these--you know, to these communities and giving back the communities, not taking them over. 

TAMARA HEROLD: Thank you, Chief. To all three of our panel members, thank you for lending your expertise in sharing your experiences with our audience. To our listeners, if you're a policing professional and you feel inspired to join this prestigious and amazing group of NIJ LEADS scholars, please visit NIJ.gov to learn more about this program, how to apply, and the benefits it can offer you and your agency. You can also learn more about a wide variety of evidence-based interventions including many of the gun violence reduction strategies discussed in this podcast by visiting NIJ's CrimeSolutions clearinghouse at crimesolutions.gov. To all listening, we hope you enjoyed today's discussion. Thank you for your service, sacrifice, and commitment to advancing justice. Please stay safe, stay curious, and lead by inspiring others to use evidence to promote excellence in policing. 

SPEAKER 2: To learn more about today's topic or about NIJ, visit the links in the episode description and join us for new episodes every month.  

Opinions or points of view expressed in this episode represent a consensus of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any products and manufacturers discussed in this episode are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice. 


The importance of using multi-layered approaches to address gun violence
Barriers and challenges to using evidence-based policing strategies
The art of using data to inform strategies
Advice for persuading those who are research-resistant
Message for police leaders