Crime Lab New York will help promote evidence-based policies to prevent crime, violence

Steve Kloehn
Associate Vice President for News and Public AffairsUniversity Communications

Leading researchers will provide policymakers in New York City with rigorous, objective, scientific evidence to help reduce crime, violence and the toll taken by aspects of the criminal justice system.

Crime Lab New York, part of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, will gather experts from around the nation, spanning disciplines, to develop data-driven approaches to these fundamental societal problems. Using data provided by the city of New York and other government partners, they will identify and evaluate interventions that can be measured and replicated, to help guide the best use of public resources.

This is part of a building University of Chicago effort toward evidence-based analysis of specific policies designed to help address the most fundamental issues facing the nation’s cities and to support their most disadvantaged residents.

“Growing out of our strong partnership with the city of Chicago, the Crime Lab model has shown that it is possible for researchers and policymakers to collaborate in a way that uses rigorous scientific study to improve human lives,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “We look forward to this new engagement with the city of New York, as part of the University of Chicago’s commitment to making an impact on issues that affect cities around the world.”

Crime Lab New York has opened an office co-located with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Early projects will include evaluations of new strategies to enhance the effectiveness and reduce the social harms associated with the administration of criminal justice, interventions to improve educational outcomes for young people by helping better individualize instruction to students who are far behind grade level, and using new “big data” techniques from computer science to help policymakers target the people or neighborhoods who will benefit most from new interventions.

“We now have the opportunity to make New York City the leading laboratory in the country for criminal justice innovation,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This partnership will allow us to study how interventions like algebra tutoring and extended hours at community centers can provide significant public safety returns to help our city maintain low crime and violence rates.”

The Crime Lab approach seeks to change fundamentally the way key policy decisions are made, substituting hard evidence and thorough, objective analysis for the kinds of assumptions and speculation that have often shaped American society’s responses to crime.

“This de Blasio administration’s 21st-century approach to public safety is committed to shaping policy that is driven by hard evidence and thorough, objective analysis,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Partnering with Crime Lab New York is part of this effort to ensure that our strategies are shaped by science and not speculation.”

The launch of Crime Lab New York is supported by a four-year, $4.5 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The foundation, which also has supported Crime Lab work in Chicago, strives to reduce crime, increase public safety and enhance fairness and efficiency in the criminal justice system by promoting a data-driven, evidence-based approach to criminal justice policy and decision-making.

“Among the largest obstacles to reducing crime is the lack of sophisticated research about the strategies that effectively keep our communities safe,” said Anne Milgram, Vice President of Criminal Justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “Through the launch of Crime Lab New York, we will learn more about the programs, interventions and approaches that have the potential to create a significant, positive impact on New York City and cities nationwide.”

Crime Lab New York will be led by Faculty Director Jens Ludwig, the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at the University of Chicago; and Executive Director Katy Brodsky Falco, previously the Executive Director of Assessments and Reentry Services at the New York City Department of Correction.

They will be joined by Scientific Director Patrick Sharkey, Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University; and Research Director Aaron Chalfin, who recently completed his PhD in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley.

building upon years of uchicago research

University of Chicago Crime Lab’s first office was launched in 2008 by Ludwig and Prof. Harold Pollack, a public health researcher at the University of Chicago. It used randomized evaluations and other methods to attack broad and persistent problems of urban violence.

In one of its best-known collaborations, Crime Lab worked with the city of Chicago to design a competition among local service providers for projects to reduce youth violence. Crime Lab awarded grant funding to “Becoming a Man,” a mentoring program developed by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago.

Crime Lab research in the years that followed, made possible by Chicago Public Schools, showed that participation in Becoming a Man reduced violent crime arrests by 44 percent, compared to participants’ peers. Becoming a Man was recognized on several occasions by President Barack Obama, and served as a model for the White House initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper.”

Crime Lab also has worked with the Chicago Police Department to identify the sources of guns used in crimes, and with the U.S. Department of Justice to study the effects of placing more police on city streets through the federal COPS grant program. Crime Lab also worked closely with the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center to identify and study ways of reducing violence and problem behaviors inside the facility, and to reduce recidivism rates for young people re-entering the community.

Because the Crime Lab’s organizational model has included significant fundraising from both private and governmental sources, city agencies in Chicago have benefited not only from the Crime Lab’s rigorous evaluations but also from services provided at no cost to the agencies themselves.

Falco said the timing of Crime Lab New York’s creation presents a wide variety of options for researchers and policymakers.

“Crime Lab New York is thrilled to be partnering with New York City. This collaboration offers unique opportunities for both researchers and the city to address not only high-profile types of crime and violence, but to examine more persistent pieces of the crime problem like domestic violence, which haven’t historically received enough attention,” Falco said.

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