The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective.

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective. At our microphones today, David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, and Keith Cromer, again, a Community Supervision Officer, again, known elsewhere throughout the country as a Parole and Probation Agent. Our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, David and Keith, welcome to DC Public Safety.

David: Thank you very much.

Keith: Good afternoon.

David: [crosstalk 00:00:39] to be here.

Leonard: Gentlemen, what a tough job. We’re here to talk about the challenge of parole and probation agents, again, what we call community supervision officers in the nation’s capital. I cannot think of a more challenging job. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I’ve been a cop, I’ve been a spokesperson, I’ve ran group decades ago, within the prison system. I did Job Corps, where the judge said to the young individuals, “Go to jail and go to Job Corps.” I’ve done a lot of what it is that you guys do, but it’s a long time ago. I found that being a cop was simple, being a parole and probation agent was a thousand times harder than being a police officer. Am I right or wrong?

David: I would definitely agree with that. Our job is unique in a sense that we’ve got multiple roles in it. We have a client/offender/person under supervision come to our office, and we are given all of these resources to provide them. We’re encouraged to provide motivation and counseling, and we should, that should be part of our role, but at the same time, there’s another side to what we do, which is, if the supervision, if what is expected of the person is not occurring, if they’re not responding to the resources and directives we’re giving them, then there’s this side of our job, which we end up in court.

We write a violation report, and we can find ourselves in front of a judge recommending that the person’s freedom be taken away, the very same person sometimes where maybe even a few weeks earlier, you were sitting down and talking with them about really powerful reasons why they fell into a life of crime and you were trying to counsel them. Sometime, I know for myself, it can seem a sudden switch, and I’m sure for the clients as well, it can be like, “Wait a minute, you were just encouraging me and counseling me and now you just requested that my freedom be taken away.” It’s a hard balance.

Leonard: When I ran group, I was told not to tell anybody I was an ex-cop, ran group in the prison system and doing a cognitive-behavioral therapy group session. I did end up telling people that I was a former cop, and the people who were part of the group said, “I wish you hadn’t told us that, because now we don’t trust you.” Keith, most of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are not trusting human beings. How do you break through that barrier when you’re there to get into their heads, help them deal with their lives in a pro-social way, but at the same time, you hold the authority to send them back to prison if necessary?

Keith: It takes a lot of time. It takes effort to get to know the individual on a one-on-one basis. They’re not willing to come forth all the information that you might need in the first couple of meetings, so you got to keep pushing towards to know exactly what their needs are in order for them to trust you. You want to try to get to know their families, their kids, their needs for employment, their needs for education. At that point in time, they start trying to break down barriers and allowing them to know you, to allow them to know who you are.

Leonard: The whole idea is … Our successful case completions keep going up and up and up, so we’re doing something right. We’re well above the national average in terms of successful case completions, so we’re doing something right. We’re helping men and women overcome extraordinary barriers. When I say extraordinary barriers, we’re talking about massive substance abuse, we’re talking about mental health issues. The substance abuse, 80% of our population, the mental health can go, in terms of self-reported, mental health can go as high as 50% according to some surveys, so we have problems.

When individuals come to us, they come to us with not much of a work history, not much of an educational history. Women who come out of prison, they have higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health, their backgrounds typically involve being sexually abused by somebody they knew when they were children, and they have children themselves. There’s a certain point where the deck is so stacked against the individuals, not necessarily just in the District of Columbia, but throughout the country. I’ve had offenders sit there and tell me, “Leonard, what you’re asking me to do is impossible. I can’t deal with all of the ills of my past life.” That’s why so many individuals were revoked in years past, because they came to us with immense difficulties. David?

David: What was on my mind as you were saying all of that is, and maybe I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I think because the clients can come and often do come to supervision with such an enormous array of issues, I don’t think we can solve all of their problems. Sometimes they come to supervision, they’ve got these special conditions, we’re supposed to help them do their anger management class, drug test, get treatment if they need it, but sometimes I just think that maybe what we need to be focusing on is, by the time that somebody gets done with supervision, have we assisted them ,in whatever way that looks like, but have we assisted them to have the confidence that they can, moving forward, have control over their lives.

I was talking to Cromer on the way here, I got a call from a gentleman just released from incarceration about a week ago crying on the phone because he’s telling me, “I don’t have family, I don’t have food, I don’t have housing, and I’m expected to meet all of these requirements [inaudible 00:06:17] probation and parole. I have no idea how I’m going to do it.” On one hand, I think our job is to look at him and say, “Come into the office, let’s get you connected to our resources,” but I think there’s fundamentally something else going on there that he’s saying, “I don’t feel like I have control.”

My goal is, man, if we can help the men and women who come to us feel that when they leave supervision that they can have an impact, a positive impact on their life, that they can affect positive things in it, I think that would be a positive thing, but meeting every single need they have, I think that’s where, if we don’t realize we can’t meet every need, that’s where burnout can come in. [inaudible 00:06:57].

Leonard: Keith, I’m going to throw this question to you. I’ve interviewed lots of people under supervision by these microphones, hundreds over the course of years, and when I ran public affairs for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, interviewing them there as well. Oftentimes they were telling me that their parole and probation agent, again, in this case, in Washington, D.C., community supervision officer, they would say that their officer was the key, in many senses, of them crossing that bridge from law-breaking behavior to law-abiding behavior, from drugs to no drugs. They would give the credit, in many cases, to the parole and probation agent/community supervision officer as being the person who helped them make that transformation. Is that true? Do community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, can they make that degree of change in a person’s life?

Keith: Yeah, I believe they can. Actually, one of my offenders in the past has, he crossed over tremendously. He had a plan when he came out and I helped him work his plan together. He wrote his own books, we helped him get it published. He started his own security company. He’s doing really well. I think that we can help out, as long as we continue to help them with their plan. We have to find out exactly what their needs are. As soon as we find out their needs, we can just help them out with moving forward in their lives.

Leonard: You can break through the barriers that they bring to you. I always say, I use the example, the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana. They don’t trust anybody. People listening to this program need to understand that people caught up in the criminal justice system, they may trust their mother, they might trust their mother, they don’t trust you, they don’t trust anybody. They don’t trust the religious leaders, they don’t trust the Governor, they don’t trust the President. They don’t care who it is, they’re not trusting individuals, yet you’ve got to break through those barriers to help that person, right, David?

David: Yeah, we do. I’m thinking, I’m not 100% convinced that … I think the clients know how to trust. I think it’s difficult for them, I think they’re hesitant, but what I found is that whether it’s working here in probation and parole or in [inaudible 00:09:19] Covenant House, working with homeless young adults, I think there’s hesitancy, but as soon as the client sees that this person is willing to listen to where I’ve been, as soon as I see that this person is not assuming that they’ve figured me out, to me, I’ve seen that’s a huge one, don’t assume that we know them. Once they see that willingness to hear who they are, hear where they’ve been, and that we’re willing to listen to maybe where they want to go as we try to develop that plan with them, I’ve found that the trust does come.

Then in my mind it becomes the issue of, okay, so they learn to trust you, then, though, all of their issues are still there, and so how, once you have their trust, how do you keep it, because I think it can be lost very easily, because they’ve been disappointed before, whether by family, the system, themselves, how do you keep that trust, and again, as I was saying earlier, especially in a position where on one hand we can counsel and motivate them, but if things build up where their supervision isn’t going a good direction, we got to take them to court. I feel like I’ve actually lost the trust, and I’m sad to say this, but I think I’ve lost the trust of clients before when I had to take them to court, and my hands were tied, I had to.

Leonard: I do want to explain that, but first of all, a piece of context for people listening throughout the country, our ratios, supervision ratios, are the best in the United States. We have one community supervision officer for 50 people under supervision. I know of states where it’s one to 150. I know of counties where it’s one to 250. I have seen data from jurisdictions where it’s one to 300.

We’re a federal agency, and because we’re a federal agency, we have funding. We do provide substance abuse, very comprehensive substance abuse therapy to 25% of our population who needs it. We have a mental health team, we have learning labs. We have a ton of resources that the average parole and probation agency doesn’t have, but still, even though you’ve got the best circumstances within parole and probation probably within the United States, when I talk to community supervision officers, they remind me that it’s the hardest job that they’ve ever had. That true?

Keith: Yeah, that’s true. Even though we have all those resources, if the individual doesn’t want to take advantage of those resources, it’s not even needed. It’s just we’re sending them to waste their time and waste everybody else’s time, wasting money, because it’s on the individual to really want to move forward in his life and to change and get away from that substance. No matter how much resources that we have, it can go out the door in a heartbeat by just going outside the front door and seeing what’s going on in the community.

Leonard: It’s our job to break through those barriers. It’s our job to convince a person who doesn’t want to participate. It’s our job, with a person who is struggling to participate, to successfully enter his world, her world, and help that person out. How do you help a person out who doesn’t want to be helped out?

Keith: First and foremost, I think they have to establish trust. Once they start trusting who you are, actually think that you have the best need for them, then they’ll start realizing and saying, “Okay, I’m going to go ahead and give this a opportunity and get my substance abuse worked out, get my employment worked out.” Those are the factors that may be having a barrier in their lives. I think this basically boils down to trust.

David: I definitely, yeah, I was shaking my head yes as Keith Cromer was talking, that it’s once the trust is there, then I think someone else too can come into it, that you can help the person experience exposure is what I’m thinking. Oftentimes I think a lot of clients come to parole and probation, at least from my experience in D.C., they come to parole and probation, and their lives have been focused around a specific neighborhood for many, many years, the resources they’re looking to are within that specific neighborhood.

I think there’s some goodness to that, that they feel like they know where they’re from and they can access those resources, but there are so many things in Washington, D.C., and so many opportunities, that once they trust us, that we can encourage them to take advantage of, “Maybe don’t apply for the job right down on your block, why don’t you go downtown and apply for a job?” or, “Don’t go to that GED program down the street, but why don’t you go to the one Uptown?” For those that don’t live here, Uptown’s a different part of D.C. from where Cromer and I work. I think exposure is important, and it can take away some fear to try new things. I think exposure can maybe help clients not stay and keep repeating the same things over and over again.

Leonard: Keith, go ahead. You want to jump in?

Keith: Oh yeah, I was, just get them out of a box. I think a lot of times they’re boxed in and they think they have no way of getting out. I think the opportunities that are around them, a lot of these guys know where these resources are, but they don’t take the opportunity, because I think a lot of times it’s self-doubt, negative-

Leonard: They’re frightened by it.

Keith: Yeah, they’re frightened by it, by the chance.

Leonard: Somebody, a person under supervision, an offender, one time told me, scariest thing that he’s ever done in his life is go through substance abuse treatment, because he had to confront his entire life and the reason why he was so desperately in need of drugs every single day, and that was the scariest thing he’s ever done, because he had to relive everything that propelled him towards substance abuse. Is he right?

David: I would lean towards yes. I was thinking that a lot of the older guys that I have on my caseload, maybe guys in their 50s and 60s, what I’ve found is that they’re more, not all of them, but for the most part, they’re more willing and able to look back on where they’ve been and what they’ve been through, and to demonstrate insight on how it’s affected them. I’ve found that is extremely helpful in their ability to stay out of the system, whereas the younger guys, it’s like Cromer was saying, or like we’ve been saying, that it’s almost too frightening, because if they look at it and accept what’s happened to them, accept what they’ve done, accept what they’ve been through, it could almost paralyze them.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program, I do want to reintroduce everybody. The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective is a program that I’ve looked forward to doing for quite some time, because I do think the role of parole and probation agents is probably one of the most difficult jobs that you can possibly imagine. David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, Keith Cromer, Community Supervision Officer, both with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency,

Gentlemen, I have two questions. Number one, you’re talking to a national audience, so first of all, what do you want somebody in Des Moines or somebody in Hawaii, 20% of our audience is international, somebody from Europe to know about what it is to be a parole and probation agent?hen the second question after that is, when do we have to revoke and send that person back to prison because of transgressions, problems, new crimes? First of all, in terms of, what do you want people throughout the country to know about being a parole and probation agent? Cromer? Easy question, just simple.

Keith: To be a probation officer, a parole officer, you have to wear multiple hats. You have to b a counselor, a mentor, sometimes their father, their mother, their brother. You have to be a lot of things for them at certain times in their life, and you also have to be law enforcement as well. You have to be able to look them in the eye and tell them exactly what’s going on, and the right time, be on them, be hard on them, and then learn at the same time, break, fall back and say, “Tell me what’s going on. Allow me to cry for you, I’ll cry with you,” and then all at the same time, tell them how to, lift them up and show them how the ways to go to the next level in their lives.

Leonard: If you were dealing with an individual without problems, without substance abuse, without mental health, without educational deficiencies, who had a good job history, who doesn’t have an anger manage problem, who wasn’t abused as a child, if you’re doing that with the best possible person under the best possible circumstances, it would still be an extraordinarily difficult job.

Keith: That is correct. I have found that a lot of those guys have no other outlet, because a lot of people that are around them are negative as well, so they come to my office and speak to me friendlier than anyone, anybody else, so they dump a lot on us, what’s going on in their lives. We have to take that and process it and try and help them stay on a right, narrow path, because even though they’re doing everything correctly in their lives, a lot of times, that negative influence is still around them that they may want to go back to it.

Leonard: Both of you are out in the community, seeing them in the community, seeing them in their homes, going into their homes, talking to their parents, talking to their wives, talking to their children, talking to their grandmothers, right?

Keith: Correct.

Leonard: You’re out in the community, both at that person’s job, in their home, seeing this person in the community on an announced and unannounced basis, correct?

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: You roll up on a guy and the guy is standing on the street corner. The guy was fine and everything’s compliant and he’s doing fairly well and he’s getting his GED and he’s getting his plumbing certificate and he’s going to Narcotics Anonymous, and you roll up and he’s smoking a joint sitting on his front porch step with his friends. Now we get around to this issue of revocations. Look, a parole and probation agent from the state of Maryland told me that if you revoked everybody under supervision for smoking a joint on his front porch, there would be no sense in parole and probation, you would just automatically send them back to prison after a day.

David: Yeah. The clients on our caseloads, they’re on drug testing regiments, so we get notifications daily on the results of their drug test.

Leonard: Intensive drug tests.

David: Intensive drug tests. Many of them are on twice a week. If we had to respond with strong, immediate sanctions, taking them back to court every positive drug test, the jails, the prisons, would have even more people in them than they do now.

Leonard: We’d have to build four to five times the amount of prisons-

David: We would.

Leonard: … than we currently have now.

David: Absolutely. The thing is, the way I think about it is, is something becoming a pattern. I had a guy when I first started, he tested positive for cocaine. He had been clean as a whistle prior to that for several months, and then boom, positive for cocaine. Of course, we call him into the office and I sit down with him and I show him the positive and we have a conversation about, first of all, the surprise of it, “You’ve been doing well. Are there any triggers that have come up recently that hadn’t been there for a while?” We try to provide support. He no longer tested positive after that, but if that had become a pattern where it’s cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, then we go to treatment. If that didn’t work, then we …

After treatment doesn’t work, I think that’s when you come back and take a look and say, “Okay, what else can we do?” If all options have been exhausted, I think then, yes, you can go to court and request revocation. I would just want to make sure that before I requested somebody’s freedom be taken away, that I have truly tried every single thing and given that person every opportunity to turn things around.

Leonard: I do want to emphasize, anywhere from the Department of Justice to [PU 00:21:31] to the National Council of State Governments to the American Probation and Parole Association, and I could go down the list and name 15 more, they want us to remediate, to the best of our ability, I’m saying “we,” I’m talking about parole and probation throughout the country, to try intermediate sanctions, to try to hold the person accountable, provide those sanctions, and provide those resources to help that person. Every organization out there is telling us to do exactly that, so now becomes the key issue, when do you maintain, when do you try to remediate, when do you try to provide these intermediate sanctions, and when do you revoke? Is there a magic formula?

Keith: I think it’s on a individual basis. There’s no such thing as a magic formula. I think every individual comes in front of you is different and you have to treat them differently. To revoke somebody for using cocaine one time would not be a great decision for that individual, because everybody makes mistakes.

Leonard: It’s not going to be one time. Let’s be honest.

Keith: That’s true.

Leonard: Our folks screw up on a regular basis.

Keith: A regular basis, right.

Leonard: Yet at the same time, 69% successfully complete supervision, so obviously, the community supervision officers are working with that individual, with their parents, with their families, with their treatment providers, to try to provide some sense of stability so that person can safely complete supervision, but nobody does it without screw-ups.

David: Very true.

Keith: That’s correct, that’s correct. Then the more they screw up, the more they dig a hole for themselves, and eventually, no matter how much you try to do as far as intervention for them, revocation is on the way. You either tell them that you are doing this for them, you’re trying to help them out, trying to find a cause of what’s going on behind it, treatment, modality, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, it doesn’t matter, at one point in time, revocation is inevitable. You can talk to them as much as you can, but some people, no matter what you do, they’re still going to want to, they’re not going to follow the rules and regulations of supervision, so they’re going to go back.

David: I want to throw this out there too, to consider too. Sometimes when we think about revocation, it is a hard thing to think about, taking somebody’s freedom, but I had a few clients actually that have said to me before, after they’ve been released, that they feel, and it’s a touchy subject, it’s something for debate, but they said that they feel like their time in jail saved them.

Keith: That’s true.

David: Now you can look back in their histories and see PCP, cocaine, heroin, constant use, homelessness, no employment, so those are strong risk factors for possible recidivation, but sometimes I think our society as a whole looks at prison and jail and says, “It’s the worst thing ever. It’s the worst thing ever. It needs to change.” There are things that need to be adjusted, most definitely, but when I hear clients who have said that’s what saved their life, it really gives me pause to say, “You know what? There is a time when we have to go to the judge and say, ‘Take their freedom.'” I was going to throw that out there. I think one thing, can I go back for a second?

Leonard: Yeah, please do.

David: You asked the question about what would we recommend to people across the country listening and about our role as probation officers, and I think one thing too is that, remember that we are on the front line of behavior change, of trying to instill behavior change in a very, very, very difficult population, the people that you read about who have committed the armed robberies, the people that you have read about that are running through the streets high on cocaine and heroin. Those are the people we meet with. Those are the people who we get to know their grandmothers, their children, their spouses, and it is difficult. I think people need to remember that if a client messes up, even several times on supervision, it’s not just a cut and dry process. If it took 20 years for somebody to get involved with the criminal justice system and they’ve got a year on probation, we need to keep in mind what sort of issues. It takes a while.

Leonard: I go back to my experience in Maryland where the person said that if you’re going to revoke them for one, two, three, four, five drug positives, then just revoke them now, just revoke everybody. They come out of prison on a Tuesday and they’re back on a Wednesday, because what’s the sense? They’re not going to go to treatment or they’re going to be disruptive in treatment, they’re not going to get a job or they’re going to take too long to get a job, and they’re going to pay their fines in restitution, but not pay all of it.

There’s always problems with people under supervision. Your job is to break through the barriers, understand that person, understand their family, understand their circumstances, use cognitive-behavioral therapy, establish a relationship with that person, and at the same time, magically induce these individuals to participate in programs, encourage their successful participation in programs, and hold them accountable when they screw up.

David: Yeah, correct.

Leonard: That’s a huge, huge, huge task. People need to understand, people listening throughout the country, people need to understand that out of the correctional population, which is 7,000,000 individuals on any given day, 5,000,000 belong to us in parole and probation. The vast majority of people involved in the criminal justice system are not behind bars. The vast majority of the people in the criminal justice system are beholden or responsible or reporting to parole and probation agents.

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: Can I throw out a question to Cromer real quick?

David: Yeah, please.

Leonard: Keith, I have a question for you. We had talked about this earlier, but you said before you had had clients that on supervision were doing stellar, they were meeting all their special conditions, coming to the office visits, drug testing clean, working, but then something happened where everything just falls apart. You mentioned earlier the importance of helping the clients build a plan. Was it just that they didn’t have a plan that they fell apart or was there something … How does something go from this really positive trajectory and then it just evaporates?

Keith: Yes, either one, they have a plan or …

Leonard: Back in the mic. There we go.

Keith: One, they didn’t have a plan, or two, something in their lives that destroyed them. A lot of times they don’t know how to cope with issues that come up in their lives, so the first thing they do is go to drug use. The friends, the family, things happen, or death in the family, everybody goes out with everybody, but a lot of people [inaudible 00:28:07]] surroundings tend to cope with using drugs, marijuana, cocaine, whatever the case may be, or celebrating, the same direction. That’s the reason what you have to figure out is how to let them know that that’s not okay to celebrate or to go into mourning regarding using drugs regarding an issue. Then also a lot of times, they’re going well and then they sabotage themselves because they don’t know, “I’m doing so well, I don’t know how to-“

Leonard: “I don’t know what to do from here,” maybe.

Keith: “… [crosstalk 00:28:39] do from here,” so they do, the fear comes in, and so they use cocaine or whatever drug.

David: Because in my head I was thinking, that’s one of the most difficult parts for me as a supervision officer is when somebody’s doing fantastic, and so in your head you’re like, “Wow, this person, they’re going to have a great life. 20 years from now, they’re going to be great,” and then everything falls apart.

Leonard: I think that struggle is with every person out there. You’re going to have good days and bad days and some points where they’re doing well and some points where they’re not doing well, and somehow, some way, you’ve got to work your magic regardless of the circumstances. We got about 15 seconds left. Comments? Comments?

David: I was going to say, just remember that we’re on the front lines of behavior change with folks involved in the criminal justice system, not easy.

Leonard: Look, we have better results in the last couple years here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, higher case closure rates, fewer arrests. Congratulations to you and everybody out there that chooses to be a community supervision officer, and a parole and probation agent, outside of the District of Columbia. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to David Mauldin, CSO, Keith Cromer, CSO, with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. This is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a pleasant day.


Correcting Bad Information on Social Media-Craig Silvermen

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic: social media during emergencies. Does government have the ability to correct bad information?

I am honored today to have Craig Silverman. He is the founding editor of Buzzfeed Canada. He is at Twitter, @Craigsilverman. To say that this is an extraordinarily important topic is an understatement. Craig wrote a document; Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content. It was funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Knight Foundation. Throughout this radio show of great importance, and immense complexity, I want us to focus on 3 things: A. How do we address misinformation? B. What can we do about misinformation, and C. If we had a dirty bomb that went off in your area, we practiced this all the time when I was with the Maryland emergency management, what are the implications for public safety and the surrounding area? Craig, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Craig: Thank you so much for having me.

Leonard: I am honored to have you. With the world economic forum in 2014 according to your report, top trends, viral misinformation. The world economic forum is saying viral misinformation is one of the top trends in the world, correct?

Craig: Yes, that’s right. It made their list of the people that they had asked to fill out a survey. People from around the world put that in the top 10.

Leonard: That’s amazing. Misinformation regardless as to it’s an emergency or not, is standard practice in today’s media world. Is that correct?

Craig: Absolutely. When you have a world of decentralized media, where people can easily publish instantly from a smart phone, can easily start to make something gather attention and vitality through social networks, we end up getting a lot of stuff that circulates that simply isn’t true. There have always been rumors. People have always traded information that had a questionable level of voracity, or was in that early emerging stage where you don’t know if it’s true or not. What happens today is these natural human tendencies that we have to pass along information, to share information, it can really go like wildfire because we live in a network society. There’s a huge amount of misinformation that gets out there. It can very easily be seen as true by a lot of people, and once it starts fooling influential folks, such as people in the press, or people in influential positions and government or other places, then it really starts to be seen as true. It’s a big priority, I think, in newsrooms to do a better job of understanding the dynamics of rumor and misinformation, and I think for the folks that you talk to, and in the roles that you’re in, it’s also critically important.

Leonard: It’s compounded during an emergency if we have a hard time correcting bad information on Facebook and Twitter, and the other social media platforms. If it gets into newsrooms, newsrooms end up repeating it. On a day to day basis, that’s a tough nut to crack. When there’s an emergency, if I’m driving in my car, when I was with Maryland Emergency Management, equipped lights and sirens. They say there’s a problem, I have to drive to the problem where we’re setting up a media briefing center, and while driving, and it’s going to take me an hour and a half to get there under the best of circumstances, the rumor goes off that there’s a dirty bomb. I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of putting out that rumor. I mean, I’m driving to the scene. During an emergency, this stuff flows fast and furious.

Craig: Absolutely, it does. Obviously my area of expertise is not in emergency management, but the first thing that comes to mind to me as you’re describing that scenario is there are certainly some physical responsibilities, in person communication, going to scenes, evaluating what’s going on. There’s that piece of it, and I would hope that people involved in this world also think about setting up social media command centers to a certain point, to monitor the information that’s coming out of that specific area where a disaster might have happened, or there are reports of a disaster. Also looking at the larger networks and monitoring key words and other things to see what people are talking about. There’s a two-fold purpose in it. This has some overlap with newsrooms. On the one hand, there were people who are just simply closer to the problem, closer to what’s going on than you are, if you’re in your car driving over, what have you. They may have access to a smart phone, they may be on Twitter, they may be on Instagram. There’s a hug amount of information that could be coming out in real time, from the critical area, or from people who have a certain level of expertise and knowledge. They may be going to social networks to put that out there.

The other side of it, aside from gathering information, you want to use these channels to push out quality information. I think that through both of those things, the monitoring of information, you should be looking at rumors and claims that are out there, and trying to triangulate the information, and compare it to the information that you have coming in from your other sources. On the other side in terms of communicating information, you want to think about, we know this rumor is circulating. We know that it’s true, we know that it’s false, or maybe we don’t know whether it’s true, what can we put out to give some context and to help in the process of people understanding and making sense of the situation. I think in the scenario you described, you’re in the car driving as fast as you can to get there, I would hope that there are colleagues who are really monitoring social media. Not only to gather additional information to provide to you as you give you’re briefings, or what have you, but also to really see if there are things that are starting to take flight that may not be true, or that you really need to look more into to see whether they’re true or not.

Leonard: Even when it’s not during an emergency, I would contend that most of us in emergency management throughout the United States, most of us within the criminal justice system throughout the United States, we do not have these special I-teams to do that analysis. The question becomes whether or not we are all sophisticated enough and do we have our own personal social media accounts, and do we have enough of them? It may be Twitter, it may be Facebook, but it could be an endless number of others that are putting out this misinformation. It would take somebody savvy, it would take somebody who already has social media accounts, and it would take an almost instantaneous network to begin to compare notes, before we could put out these fires.

Craig: Yeah. This is one of the things that it goes to a point that’s really, really important. I worked on a project with the European Journalism Center, something called the verification handbook, where it was a document oriented towards newsrooms, but also humanitarian workers, helping them verify information in real time in emergency scenarios. One of the things that became very clear is as we talked to journalists with the Australian broadcasting Corporation, she talked about their experience with wildfires in Australia. I’m sure that this probably isn’t news to you, but one of the things that became very clear from talking to her is what you do before the emergency happens dictates how well you’re going to handle it and cover it in the moment.

In these scenarios, rather than trying to figure out who on the team has got social media accounts or what have you, obviously it has to become part of the planning process. What are the channels we’re going to use? What are the ones that are most important to use in terms of getting news out in real time? I would say that Twitter is a very important one, because that’s where people tend to look for real time information.

Leonard: Yeah.

Craig: Facebook is obviously where the most amount of people are. Facebook is doing a lot of work to be seen as more real time, and more hospitable to real time, so a Facebook page is also really important. I think setting this stuff up ahead of time of, where are we going to communicate this information, who is going to own these channels, and what are we going to use these channels for? Those are really, really important things to think about much sooner than before you get the reports that a dirty bomb has gone off. Figuring out who on the team has expertise in this area, figuring out what accounts exist or need to be set up, and then how you’re going to use those. Those are just as important as all the other pieces of preparation that are going to be done, because not only is it important for, again, getting the information out, but if people know this is a trusted source, and a place where good information is coming from, then they may actually bring intelligence and information to you, and it becomes a place where people can start to contribute. It again gets that kind of two-way thing going, which is really, really important and useful.

Leonard: I think you would agree that there’s no piece of technology out there that that’s going to solve this. I’ve been also looking at magazines and different companies are offering emergency social media analysis hardware/software. I don’t think this is a matter of hardware/software. I think this is a matter of, as you said before, preparation, having trained people in place, and the ability to instantaneously sit at a computer and analyze social media and instantaneously contact each other. This is something that’s not going to involve one or two or three people, this is something that’s going to involve in some cases, up to 20 or 30 people who can instantaneously drop what they’re doing, go to the computer, start searching hash tags, start sharing information with each other. That involves a pretty high degree of sophistication and preparation and technology that they have to have with them practically at all times.

Craig: Yeah. You need an internet connection, and things like say Tweet Deck or Hoot Suite, or things like that in terms of the tools, but there is a lot of it that goes down to training and expertise. Just a lot of it that is the human factor. You need to have access and basic knowledge of the tools, but you also need to have people who are well trained. I think actually a small group of people can achieve a lot. The larger you get, once you get beyond say five people, it becomes very hard to coordinate those folks. You might have people duplicating effort in the scenario of monitoring social media and analyzing it. Ideally, you have some specialists in this area who can get on that wan watch for it. I think there’s the technology piece, but what you bring up is kind of the human piece of it, and that’s really, really important when we’re talking about rumors and misinformation.

There are some really basic human needs that are filled by rumors. That’s why we have so many of them, particularly in emergency and disaster scenarios. When humans lack a certain amount of information, when it’s a very confusing scenario, and there’s lots of conflicting information, what we try to do, is we try to make sense of the world. It makes us very uncomfortable to not have information, especially in a critical scenario. It’s very tough for our brains to process conflicting information. What we naturally try to do is to make sense of this scenario, and that often causes us as we talk with other people to come up with, “well, maybe it’s because of this, or maybe it’s because of that.” We all put our pieces of information together, and that’s where we start to create and propagate rumors. It’s important for everyone to understand that there is this human need that rumors can often fill, especially in emergency scenarios, where there’s a real, imminent threat there. Understand that rumors aren’t necessarily people who are trying to put out false information, it’s people who mean well who are engaging in this process of sense-making, trying to figure it out.

Especially when it’s hurricanes or things like that, and there’s high anxiety. It actually is a coping mechanism in a lot of ways for us to fill in the gaps, the things that we don’t have, the information we don’t have, to put that out there. You’ll see this happening on Twitter and on social media, is people asking questions, interacting with each other, latching on to little scraps of information that come out that seem to make sense to them that they then propagate. I think that everyone should have a basic understanding of why rumor is such a basic human element, particularly in these scenarios. Whenever you have things like bombings, or hurricanes, natural disasters, they’re going to be there. It’s the human engine, emotions and brains and those kinds of things that are driving these rumors. Tools and technologies are important, but understanding human behavior is always really, really big in this kind of scenario.

Leonard: There’s also sources of purposeful misinformation. One of the things when I was learning how to do green screen television, is that I realized that I could buy readily available footage from elsewhere, I can do a green screen television shoot, and it will look exactly like any other news program. It will look and feel and smell and taste like a real news program, and I can purposely put out misinformation, and sites purposefully putting out misinformation. I refer to the photos of sharks swimming in the streets of Sandy Hook after Hurricane Sandy. We have that level of a complexity to deal with as well.

Craig: Yes, absolutely. One of the things in the research that I focused on were what I called fake news websites. These are websites where somebody’s taken a basic WordPress template or web template and it looks like a real news website. The articles are written with a newsy voice and tone to them, but everything on the website is fake. What I saw in my research was that they could have articles that could get hundreds of thousands of shares, driving a significant amount of traffic. What their strategy basically is, they’re trying to monetize on gullibility. They come up with fake articles about celebrities, or about what I saw when Ebola was a real threat in the United States, they did a lot of fake articles. One of them reported that an entire Texas town had been quarrantined because a family had contracted Ebola. Completely fake, of course. It got a huge amount of shares. Of course, that sends people to their website, they have ads on their pages, and they earn money that way.

There are certainly people who are conscientiously trying to spread misinformation, whether it’s fake news websites doing it to earn money, or perhaps there are people who have a malicious intent and other ways. That’s certainly something that’s going to emerge and come out there. Sometimes though, people are spreading fake information, but it’s not necessarily with malicious intent. This is a really hard thing particularly for journalists to understand, because why would somebody put out something that was fake? The answer that a lot of these hoaxers give, is that again, it’s a stress relief for them to just put a joking image. Unintentionally they put it out thinking everyone will know it’s a joke and have a laugh, but people start to take it and treat it as real.

Again, there’s this release valve that people need in these very anxiety inducing scenarios where they’ll often put something out like that. It is something to be aware of. It’s important to be aware that rumors are absolutely going to emerge in these scenarios. A hundred percent guaranteed, in an emergency response scenario, natural disaster scenario, what have you, rumors will abound. No question about it. There will also be people who intentionally or otherwise put out misinformation.

One is the monitoring aspect of this. The second piece where journalists also really need to raise their skill level, is the verification piece of it. You see a tweet, and somebody’s made a claim, how do you figure out if that’s true or not? This is a skill area where the more people who can know how to use some tools and some basic approaches to figure out whether it’s true or false, the better off we’re all going to be as a society.

Leonard: There’s a fascinating part of your report where basically you’re saying that there’s an economic model for anything that delivers clicks to a website and that the incentives are all wrong, which is one of the reasons why we’re having this problem to begin with.

We’re more than halfway through an extraordinarily entertaining and informative program. Ladies and gentlemen, Craig Silverman is by our microphones. Founding editor of Buzzffed Canada. You can reach him a Twitter @craigsilverman. The report itself, Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, again funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Knight Foundation. Extraordinarily fascinating read. Find it on the internet if you are interested in rumor control, if you’re interested in emergency management, you must go to the website and get Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, and read it.

Craig, we have a 30% reduction in reporters over the last 10 years. Where we’ve relied upon media in the past to assess rumors and correct information internally, their ranks have been depleted tremendously. The reporters who I work with are doing more than ever before with less than ever before. The media that we counted on in the past to verify and to figure out what is correct information and what is incorrect information with our help from people who are directly at the scene. Because of their fewer numbers, it’s very hard for them to complete this task. It’s very hard for them to be the gatekeeper.

Craig: It is. The reason I do things like the verification handbook and the Lies, Damn Lies report, is because I see that there’s a lack of these skills in the newsroom. Of the journalists that are left, they absolutely are overloaded with different things, and they haven’t been given training in verification of social media content and things like that. I think you do have to in these scenarios, look at newsrooms as an important channel and partner in these things. I also do think that you have to look at the reality that you just articulated, and say we are going to be a source as well. We’re not just going to feed things through the media. We have to be able to be a credible, reliable, consistent source ourselves. I think that’s a really important thing to realize and to think about what that’s going to take in terms of resources and training on your own.

All that being said, a piece of advice we give to newsrooms in terms of preparing for disaster coverage is you need to think about all of the critically important government agencies, first responders, experts in your area and you need to create a line of communication with them ahead of time. I think it goes both ways in that, absolutely you should be thinking about who are the newsrooms, AP being one that’s all over the country, so how do we get a direct line into AP to make sure we’re communicating with them well. Thinking about locally, who are the critical local sources as well, and setting up those lines of communication to say when we have something important, we’re going to get it to you in this form. For the journalists, to tell them and say when you have an important question, when you know something, here is how you get that to us. I think when we’re talking about these kinds of scenarios of emergency situations, some of the mutual suspicion or distrust that tends to be there, it recedes a little bit because everybody’s in it together just trying to get the best possible information out to the public as possible. To tell the people who need to evacuate that they need to evacuate, and to make sure that it’s not a false order. And so on.

I think that you’ll find in these scenarios, newsrooms do want to be a very good partner. Figuring out the method of communication, helping them understand what kind of information they can rely on from your particular office, and which other places they might need to go for other information is very important. Then of course thinking about how you are going to get your information, not just out through the media, but through like we talked about; a Twitter account, a Facebook page, other means to make sure that it’s getting out there as much as possible.

Leonard: Bottom line is that we have to have a core of digital specialists who are extremely sophisticated about social media. Extremely sophisticated in terms of following the media, who already have these accounts set up, who are ready to go at a moment’s notice. What you’re saying is, is that we can do it with a small number. Let’s just say 1-10, we have to be digital specialists. We have to really know social media. We have to know its implications, we have to know who’s out there, and we have to be on the various platforms. I agree with you with Facebook and Twitter, but Instagram is rising in popularity more than anybody ever anticipated, and others. Periscope. There’s all sorts of things out there that are just exploding and we have to be knowledgeable of them all. We in the media, and we within government, and we within emergency management must become digital media experts.

Craig: Absolutely. You have to think like a newsroom in some ways, particularly when there’s an active scenario going on. You have to think about how you’re communicating the information. One of the other pieces that’s really important and this is talked about in the report, is deciding at what point you’re ready to communicate a piece of information.

Newsrooms, what I was talking about in the sense of there’s so much information that’s circulating online and circulating on social networks, and it may have news value and it may be of interest, and it may get them clicks, but what newsrooms have to figure out is, what’s your bar for when you’ll actually cover something? Do you need to have it 100% nailed down? Or will you just take anything that’s circulating and put some [hedging 00:21:58] language in, and saying, “Well, this is popular on Reddit, we don’t know if it’s true, but have a look at this photo.” I think it’s important for government agencies and communicators as well to think about that. Okay, so if we’re going to be a source of information in this scenario, what level of voracity, what level of conformation do we need to put something out? Are we only going to put out stuff that is 100% nailed down, or are we actually going to engage and say, “There’s a rumor circulating that this is happening in this area of the city, as of right now we have no information to confirm that.”

Thinking about how you’re going to engage on that level is I think a really important thing. Overall, yeah. I think that there’s no way to do this kind of work today without having people on your team who are social media savvy, who are good at monitoring, who are good at assessing, who are good at verifying, and who are good at communicating. These are absolutely core skills. There are definitely tools and things that can help you, but a lot of it comes down to human decision making and figuring out what you’re processes are and what you’re standards are, just like newsrooms have to do.

Leonard: Even in your report, when you mentioned Larry King, he criticized CNN his own network in terms of Flight 370, the Indonesian airliner that went down. He criticized their coverage of that as absurd. We say in the report that there is an economic model, that anything that drives clicks to a website, the incentives, fiscal incentives, financial incentives are all wrong. This is a challenge. This is a challenge for media, it’s a challenge for us to put it together, and guess what you’re saying is, is that not only must we train amongst ourselves, we’ve got to get together with media and figure all this out ahead of time, and have a protocols in place so bad information doesn’t get out information that’s going to harm literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Craig: Absolutely. Yeah. That preparation piece. We keep coming back to it because it’s so essential. For the folks that this particular conversation is targeted at, I don’t know that their incentives are as misaligned as they are in a lot of newsrooms in the sense that a lot of digital newsrooms value the number of views and clicks you get, and if you take the extra time to nail something down and find out that it’s not real, then you get no clicks for that, because you haven’t gotten the story. Other people may get it first. In newsrooms, what they have to re-calibrate is what do we value? Do we value getting the most clicks on a story, or do we value being the ones who’ve said, “No, no, no. This story is fake,” and putting that out there and showing that we’re trusted and building that up over time.

I work at BuzzFeed now. I Joined BuzzFeed after I did the fellowship that led to the report we’re talking about. For me. BuzzFeed obviously is a huge organization, drives a huge amount of traffic, covers a huge amount of stuff that’s viral. What I saw before I joined, is a shift that had been happening culturally internally at BuzzFeed over the last couple of years, whereby rather than just finding anything and being first to it and getting it up first, the culture had shifted towards asking questions, reaching out, doing verification, and not having fake stuff on the site. A more journalistic culture has taken hold, and BuzzFeed as they’ve been hiring people and news.

I don’t know exactly what the incentives are in the world of the folks who are here, but I assume that there’s probably not as much pressure around clicks, and far more to be lost in terms of reputation if a government agency or a specialized company doing emergency response is putting out fake information. That is a game changer for them, whereas a single journalist, if they make 1 mistake they can move on. For a government agency putting out false information in an emergency, that’s almost game over, because of the amount of credibility it has.

Leonard: In the final minutes of the program, and there’s so much I wanted to get to but I’m not going to be able to get to it today. The more we care about a rumor, the more we have a stake, the more we participate in that rumor, the more we care about a topic, the more like we are to spread rumors, and the more likely we are to believe it’s true. We cherry pick information that we hear, that we come into contact with, and if it fits our preconceived notion of the world, there’s a good possibility that we will spread that rumor. We will believe it and spread it. Part of this is the psychology of the people who are reading and assessing this for themselves, and what you’re warning is that you’ve got to be very careful in debunking the rumor. You cant go after the person, you have to to go after the facts. There is a strong set of psychological principles that apply.

Craig: Yes. There’s a lot going on here in terms of why somebody would choose to propagate a rumor. If it aligns with existing knowledge and existing beliefs that they have, they are more likely to believe it and to propagate it. If it fits with suspicions they have, if it fits with their worldview, again they’re more likely to put it out there. They’re more likely to believe it. Another thing that people should note also about rumors, there is often a connection between repetition and believability. The more that someone is exposed to rumor, the more that any skepticism they might have about it starts to erode.

There have been studies about the number of times somebody was exposed to a rumor they start to believe it even more.

Leonard: That’s amazing.

Craig: It is. It just shows how important it is that so many of us news organizations, government communicators and other communicators, how we understand that we have to get out there early. When we see things, we have to talk about it and engage and warn people off of this stuff.

Then that gets us into the realm of debunking that you brought up. Which is, how do you do this effectively without in effect, repeating the rumor so much that people still ignore your debunking. One, as you mentioned, is people who pushed out a false rumor, you don’t want to attack them, you don’t want to personalize it. You want to debunk the idea and not the person is what people often say. That’s very important. Don’t go around shaming people. Make it easy for them to let go of this thing that they put out there and that they believed. It’s also really important to try to minimize the amount of times you’re repeating the false information. You want to express the truth in a more positive way.

A small example of this, rather than saying Barack Obama is not a Muslim, you would want to say Barack Obama is a Christian. That’s the more positive reinforcement of the correct information. It’s also important of course to get out there early. It’s important to do it in a positive way, to not attack people. It’s important to think about how you can connect with other trusted sources to get this information out there. What I mean by that is, if somebody is propagating a rumor because it aligns with say a political belief, a personal belief, some kind of orientation. If you can get other organizations that person might be perceived to be as aligned with their beliefs, and have that organization help you with pushing out the debunking, then you’ve got a much better chance of getting it out there. If they have suspicion about the government, then you should talk to other local organizations that aren’t seen as government organizations to get them to push it out there as well, whether that’s a red cross, or a local chamber of commerce. Think about all these different channels, how people who might be skeptical of government, might actually listen to one of these other channels.

Leonard: All right. Craig, you’ve got the final word. There’s so much here to discuss. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re interested in emergency management, if you’re interested in relations with the media, if you’re interested in rumor control, please go to Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, easily found on the internet. It is one of the most fascinating reads that I’ve had within my 40 years within the criminal justice system. We’ve talked to Craig Silverman today. Twitter @craigsilverman, founding editor at BuzzFeed Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Violence reduction in America

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have Thomas Abt discussing violence reduction in America. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction among other topics. Previously he served as deputy secretary for public safety to Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, as well as chief of staff to the office of justice programs U.S. Department of Justice where I first met Thomas. Thomas, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thomas: It’s a pleasure to be on.

Leonard: Thomas, I’m really happy to have you. You bring hard experience. You were one of the founders of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention for the Department of Justice and you’ve been instrumental in guiding the entire State of New York in terms of an innovative program. Violence is part of your forte, correct?

Thomas: Yes. It’s something that I’ve had the privilege to work on in a number of different settings.

Leonard: Okay. First of all, I want to talk about addressing violence across the board and how to address because the country has been involved in, I guess you could say, a discussion over the course of the last six, seven, to eight months we’ve had violence in Ferguson, we’ve had violence in Chicago, we’ve had violence in Baltimore. We’ve had this national discussion on violence prevention. As you well know, I call people before the program. I ask them and I’ve called four people from the law enforcement community, and they express confusion over what the public now wants us to do. Can you put all of these in terms of the focus on addressing violence in communities in the country?

Thomas: Sure. I can try. I think it is a very difficult conversation to have and we’re trying to have it as best we can, but the way the conversation about violence in the United States is currently being framed may be a barrier to making more progress. The current conversation that we’re having is very much and either/or conversation. Either you’re taking about police reform and the issues of police use of force, police lethality, those types of issues, or you’re talking about “black on black crime”, which I actually think is a problematic way of discussing it, but you’re talking about the issue of crime and violence in the community.

That’s a difficult framework that really pits anti-establishment voices which have some very valid concerns with more conservative, possibly pro-establishment voices. Instead of an either/or conversation, we need to have a both/and conversation. We can’t separate our concerns about crime control from our concerns about crime itself. The two go together. We need to think about both what the police are doing in terms of how they attempt to control crime and violence in a community in addition to the nature of the crime itself.

I think that if we can reframe this conversation, we can have a much more productive conversation that can give more guidance overtime keep our police professionals in the community who both want to change the way they do business and improve it, but they also have a job to do and they want to make sure that they’re keeping communities safe.

Leonard: You wrote an article called Integrating Evidence to Stop Shootings: New York’s GIVE (Gun-Involved Violence Elimination) Initiative. Discuss that with me briefly and then let’s take the conversation back to the larger national conversation because in your article it was rather straightforward. It was a focus on people. It was a focus on places. It was a focus on hot spot policing. It was a focus on police initiative’s research using evidence-based practices, going in and having conversations with troublesome people in the community, gang members in the community.

On one side of this discussion is a straightforward evidence-based approach and the other side of it is, unfortunately, race, politics, and people’s perception of what could be and should be. Let’s start off with the simple. There are ways of reducing gun violence. There are ways of reducing shootings. You were part of that platform and still are in the State of New York. Give me an overview of the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination Initiative.

Thomas: Sure. I helped establish GIVE, which is the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination, while I was working for Governor Cuomo, but just to clarify, I am now with the Harvard Kennedy School and I’m no longer working in New York, but I am still very much familiar with the program that we started.

GIVE is really, I think, an unusual effort in that it tried very directly to incorporate the best information that we had about how to reduce violence both gathering evidence and research, and looking at data, and then trying to translate that for the law enforcement community and others to make that information really accessible and easy to implement.

We did a six-month policy development process where we reviewed statistics, data, research from all around the country and identified some core practices that we felt showed what was most effective in reducing violence and crime, particularly as related to gun violence. We translated these down into three core principles. The first principle was in order to be effective, you need to focus on specific people and specific places.

All the research shows that crime is not evenly distributed. Crime is sticky. It concentrates in places and it concentrates among people. In any give community, when we think of a community as unsafe, that’s really an over simplification. In any given community that we think of as having a problem with violence, there are often two, or three, or maybe more spots, we call them hot spots, where crime and violence are highly concentrated, but they’re not concentrated throughout the entire community.

The same is true with people. A very small percentage of people, even in a neighborhood that we think of is an unsafe, are responsible for a significant majority of the crime and violence in those places. It’s very important when you’re working in an “unsafe” or high crime neighborhood to remember that the problem, even in that neighborhood, is not everywhere, and it’s not involving everyone. That’s the first principle. You have to focus on specific people and specific places.

Leonard: It’s not a community but specific places within that community.

Thomas: Exactly, and specific people. For instance, you have a very small perentage of your young people in a community. It is true that young men are much more likely to offend and be violent than young women, and it’s true that age range of maybe 14 to 24 is a particularly difficult and risky age range. It’s very important for members of the law enforcement and the community generally to understand that that doesn’t mean that every young man in a particular community that’s regarded as unsafe is going to be a public safety problem. In fact, it is going to be a very, very small number of young men. That really [counsels 00:09:01] against over broad mass arrest, zero tolerance approaches to law enforcement. It means you need to get much more targeted and you need to be much more specific.

Leonard: That addresses the larger issue that’s been going on throughout the country, but I take a look at your article and there’s been an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Everybody is taking their cue from the New York City Miracle. An 88% reduction in homicide, an 88% reduction in shootings where it rose 8% in the rest of the State of New York. People are saying to themselves, “Aggressive law enforcement in New York City is what created those reductions. Isn’t that a good thing for everybody?” That’s why law enforcement they’re saying, “Fine. It’s places, it’s people. We should be focused on specific areas, specific people,” but look what happened to New York City.

Thomas: Right. New York City is a very interesting example of how various kinds of legitimacy work together and how one type of legitimacy is not enough to have a successful crime reduction effort. There were, at least, three strands when we think about legitimacy that we need to break it down.

There’s legitimacy of effectiveness. Meaning do you do your fundamental job of driving crime down and violence down, and protecting the community? There is legitimacy as to lawfulness. Meaning when you’re doing that job, are you obeying the law and not placing yourself above the law or violating the law? Then there’s legitimacy of fairness and this is really a concept that’s been championed by Tracy Meares and Tom Tyler, they call it procedural justice. Does the community, even if you’re being effective and even if you’re being lawful, do they view you as being fair, and benevolent, and working in collaboration with them?

What we are seeing from the research is that you really need all three. In New York, you have the police being highly legitimate as a matter of effectiveness. They are arguably legitimate as a matter of lawfulness, although this has been disputed in the courts, but let’s assume for the purposes of this argument that they are.

That last strain of legitimacy, legitimacy as a matter of fairness, the perception is is that NYPD has not been acting in a fair and neutral manner. That’s a critical omission and that’s one of the real challenges that NYPD and, I think, that police are looking at. The NYPD is, I assume, I think, very surprised by this. They’re saying, “We’re doing a good job in terms of reducing crime and we’re doing it within the law,” as they perceive it, “What is the problem?”

The problem is is that they really haven’t listened to the community and really engaged on that fairness component of legitimacy and part of the issue is going back to people and places. The New York Police Department is very good about focusing resources in specific places. If there’s a lot of shootings in a particular area before this new era with Bratton coming in, so it was Ray Kelly era of a few years ago, they would flood those areas with police officers and do lots of what’s called stop and frisks, and people are probably very familiar with that term.

When there was resistance to this strategy and the community said, “Why are you stopping all of these people in our neighborhoods,” the answer from the NYPD was, “Well, this is where the crime is, and so we’re following the data, and so there should be no problem.” The problem was that as to place, but it wasn’t specific as to people. What they didn’t really appreciate is that even in an area that has a lot of crime and a lot of violence, most of the people living in that area are not involved. If you go into a neighborhood and treat everyone the same or, more accurately, every young man of color the same, you catch up in that broad net a lot of people who are not involved in crime and violence.

It’s really important to listen to the community. You have a lot of advocates, basically, pushing back on all types of police activity, but if you listen to communities what they’re saying is, “Look, there’s a small number of people in this community we want you to be very aggressive with, and we don’t care if stop and frisk them every 10 or 15 feet, but you need to understand our community better to know that one young man wearing baggy pants may be an active gang member and someone that law enforcement really needs to focus on. Another young man in baggy pants may be on his way to a job, may be on his way to Catholic school, may be on his way somewhere else. We want you to know our community and stay in your community enough so that you can make those critical distinctions.”

Leonard: Thomas Abt, before we go to the break, let me ask you a series of very quick questions and then we get into the larger conversation of what’s happening throughout the country. In essence, to all the people who are concerned about violence and violence reduction, we pretty much know from the law enforcement, criminal justice, parole and probation side. Correct or incorrect?

Thomas: I think it’s risky to say that we know anything with absolute certainty. All of this work is studied by social science and social science has limitations. I can tell you what we know best, but our information will evolve over time. I’d say there’s five core principles to reducing violence based on the best evidence we have today. In 10 years, this may evolve.

The first thing we know is that in order to reduce violence you need to be comprehensive. The police are a critical component of violence reduction, but they’re not the only people and that you need more than one program, more than one strategy, and you need more than one type of people involved.

The second thing we know is that if you have multiple players working together and multiple programs working together, it’s not surprise, they need to be aligned. The third thing that you need to do is be specific and that is that conversation that we just had about focusing on specific places and specific people.

The fourth thing you need to do is be proactive. You cannot wait until crime and violence occurs and then simply solve it by arresting, and prosecuting, and incarcerating your way out of it. You have to try to get ahead of the problem. Deter the crime before it occurs. Work with kids who are at risk for violence, and try to get them engaging in pro-social activities, and get them away from gangs, away from crews, and away from risky behavior. You need to get ahead of the problem.

Lastly, you need to focus on this concept of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not just about being effective but it’s also about being lawful and about being fair. Explaining why you’re in a particular community, what your strategy is, and really engaging with the community and other stakeholders so they know not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. We’re talking today to Thomas Abt. He is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction. Thomas, I’m going to summarize.

You gave a nice five-step summation of violence prevention. In essence, I hear two words coming out of this. One is fairness, one is quality. It’s not necessarily mass arrest, mass stops, but quality arrest, quality stops, and the perception on the part of the community as to whether or not they’re being treated fairly or not. Is it possible to break your discussion down into those two phrases?

Thomas: I think that’s a good overview. Obviously, if I was working on the ground consulting with a particular anti-violence task force, I might do that. It’s a fair overall summary.

Leonard: Okay. In essence, we have gone through the last 23 years of almost continuous reductions in crime. We have gone through, as we said in the article, an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Again, I go back to the conversations I had with people in law enforcement. They’re saying, “Well, you know, last year we were the heroes because we were sitting on top decades of reduction in crime. Now, we’re not. Now people are challenging the legitimacy of law enforcement and law enforcement tactics.” Is there anything that we can say to law enforcement officers who are terribly confused right now? It seems to me that your two concepts of fairness and equality seem to be the direction that we need to move in today.

Thomas: I think in terms of describing to the law enforcement community what happened, I consider myself a member of that community and I was surprised as well by the fervor that has really taken hold in the country. I think that one way to understand it is that we made a lot of public safety judgment calls in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in an era of high crime and increasing crime, and we thought incorrectly that crime rates were going to go up indefinitely. In the public safety community and in the broader public policy community, lots and lots of decisions and trade-offs were made in that context.

I think one of the things that’s exciting about this year and possibly years moving forward is we’re really starting a massive re-examination of all of those trade-offs, not just in terms of police using force but also incarnation and confinement rates, and lots of other questions. I think that’s a healthy thing because we are in a new era. Crime has been reduced 50%. Violence has been reduced 50% nationally. We talked about the tremendous success in New York City, but it’s happening around the country.

The first thing for us to realize in law enforcement is that times change and we need to change with them. We need to pay more attention not just to the legitimacy of effectiveness, but the legitimacy of lawfulness, and the legitimacy of fairness and realize, and this is very important, and it’s backed up by solid research, that all of these things are interconnected. If you’re perceived as fair, if you’re perceived as lawful, it will make your job catching bad guys easier.

It’s very important that we understand that this is not an either/or conversation as I said before. You don’t either make nice with the community or focus on catching the bad guys. The community is a key crime-fighting partner, and so the closer we work with them and the more effectively we work with them, the better we’ll be at catching bad guys.

Leonard: I had a conversation with a researcher from the Urban INStitute who stated emphatically, and it’s true, “We have never been safer. The United States has never seen such low rates of violent crime in our lifetimes.” In this year, we have never been safer in our lives. Thereby, you have people within the criminologic community, within the law enforcement community saying, “Wait a minute. We’ve given you the safest country in our lifetimes.” Suddenly, things have changed. What changed? What changed from the standpoint of the safest country, the safest decade, the safest year in our country’s last 25 years to this national discussion? What changed?

Thomas: President Obama actually talks, I think, quite well about this when he talks about progress in terms of racial equality. It’s important to recognize two things at the same time. Number one, in terms of public safety, that significant progress has been made; and number two, that we have a long way to go and that we’re not done. The fact that we’ve had significant progress in terms of making the country safer doesn’t mean that we don’t have more to do.

Also, it’s very important to remember that not everybody experiences public safety the same way. While listeners in suburban America may have one experience of public safety, listeners who are from or work in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage have a very different experience. For instance,  homicide for young white man and boys is the third leading cause of death, and that’s serious. For Latino young men and boys, it’s the second leading cause of death. For African-American young men and boys, it’s the leading cause of death and it causes more deaths than the nine other leading causes combined.

Leonard: In essence, what we need to do now is to come together for a conversation. We need to have an honest conversation where community members sit across the table with law enforcement officers to hammer out what it is that is susceptible in that community that until that power shift is very strong and very definitive, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem. We have a golden opportunity to solve it if we all agree to sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye, and have very honest maybe long delayed conversations that focus on your two main points, as far as I can tell, as far as I can see, fairness and equality.

Thomas: Yes. I think we also need to recognize that those conversations have been going on and there are lots of great examples of those conversations going well. Boston, in the 1900s, experienced the massive reduction in crime focusing the coming out of the Boston Gun Project with David Kennedy, Anthony Braga, and the Boston Police Department, but it was supported by the Boston TenPoint Coalition. A coalition of African-America community-based clergy, people like Jeff Brown, who were a critical element of that project and the overall effort to reduce violence success.

It’s not just about police, it’s not just about community. It’s about police, community, researchers, businesses, everyone coming together and working on the problem together. Again, it’s always about avoiding these either/or conversations. We can have a conversation that is just about police reform, but it’ll miss something. We can have a conversation that is just about crime in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, but that will also miss something. For our law enforcement partners, we need to reinforce the idea that you will be judged on not just how well you effectively reduce crime, but also how well you engage with the community and explain what you’re doing, and do that in a legitimate and lawful way.

Leonard: You did put it in perspective, and I thought it was powerful, because when you talk to people in law enforcement they will say, “I’ve been to the community meetings and I get yelled at, screamed at. Get them off the corner. They’re bothering people in the community. They are destroying the fabric of life. They are endangering our children.” A lot of folks in law enforcement is saying, “We have been listening to the community and the community has told us to take aggressive action.”

You’re saying that it really is a matter of not everybody in the community. You’re talking about very specific people and places, and that’s where the focus should be. That answers the folks in law enforcement when they express confusion. “Hey, wait a minute. The community told us to be aggressive. You’re saying the community told us to be aggressive towards very specific people and very specific places.”

Thomas: Yes. I think a lot of police forces understand that and those police forces, like the police forces in Boston, the police forces in Los Angeles, like many others, are not having the same problems that we’re having in Baltimore or we’re having in Ferguson. It’s very important to realize that there are lot of successful, highly effective, highly lawful, highly fair police departments that are really already incorporated these lessons. You don’t hear a lot about them because the community is not outraged by them.

Leonard: Because they’ve been doing it well all along.

Thomas: Maybe not all along, but they’ve certainly been doing it well for a number of years.

Leonard: The last 10 years, yes.

Thomas: There’s a responsibility to have a public conversation that goes beyond the police. It’s not just about how the police respond to this. There’s also a responsibility for journalists and a responsibility for advocates. Just as we can’t paint disadvantaged communities with a broad brush, we shouldn’t paint police officers with a broad brush. I think that they have a responsibility as well to understand that while we should keep the pressure on to introduce meaningful reforms to improve policing, the idea is not to attack policing or undermine it all together. I think that we need to understand that police are extremely important, and valuable, and honorable part of our communities, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them to a high standard.

Leonard: Thomas, we’re going to have to close there because we are running out of time, but I do appreciate this conversation and the focus does seem to be on legitimacy, the focus does seem to be in fairness, and the focus does seem to be on equality. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to Thomas Abt today. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches violence reduction. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Childhood Trauma and Criminality

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Dana Goldstein who wrote an intriguing article titled “Meet Our Prisoners”. It’s a comprehensive study of 122 men and women released in state prisons in the Boston area. The title of the show today is Childhood Trauma and Criminality. Dana, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dana: Hey, Len. I’m happy to be here.

Leonard: I’m really happy for you to be here. You’ve got a long history of writing about criminal justice issues. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. Her work has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic and other magazines. She’s the author of Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

You know all about this issue today. Tell me a little bit about the study, who did the study, who they interviewed and how you’ve retained or they’ve retained these individuals in the study.

Dana: Yeah. It’s really hard to study the lives of people who’ve been recently incarcerated because they change jobs very often or are unemployed. They don’t have regular addresses. They often have many different phone numbers over the course of a year. It’s even difficult for something as comprehensive as the census to pick these people up and really track what’s going on in their lives.

Three leading scholars: Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist, Anthony Braga of Rutgers who is a criminologist, and Rihanna Cole who works for the state of Massachusetts, they really wanted to find out what we can know about this population. They came up with something called the Boston Reentry Study. It’s a small sample size. It looks at 122 men and women. They were all released from state prisons to Boston neighborhoods in the years of 2012 and 2013. The study retention is amazing at 90%. This is basically unheard of with this population. The way they did it is that they paid each participant in the study $50 every time they came in for an interview so that was a really strong incentive. Beyond that, they also paid the relatives of these participants $50 to keep in touch and have interviews. This ended up being crucially important because for many of the former prisoners, the female family members: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, they were their connection to the community and connection to society after being released from prison. Having the cooperation of those family members in the study ended up being really key for the retention.

Leonard: One of the things that you point out in the article is up to 2/3 of people in previous interview panels dropped out. The fact that the researchers had a 90% retention rate …

Dana: Yeah. That attracted my attention as a journalist right away because when I look for research to write about in this column I write, Justice Lab, I’m often dealing with some methodological weaknesses with this particular population of justice-system involved individuals. This was a very strong methodology with a 90% retention rate.

Leonard: The bottom line is that this is a high-quality study, a 90% retention rate, involving people out of the prison system and their family members. The way that the researchers were able to retain them at the 90% level was the fact that individuals received a stipend for every interview, correct?

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. The researchers also took other extraordinary measures. They told me that one person in the study had 15 different cell phone numbers over the course of a year so a lot of … That was something, when my editor read the draft of my pre-shoot she went, “Oh, wow! That’s fascinating!” A lot of what the research team and their assistants were doing was just tracking these people, calling them constantly and saying to them, “Oh, if you’re running out of minutes on your phone, please just call us and let us know what the new number is.” The diligence really did pay off.

Leonard: That’s what fascinated me because when I first read the article, it was like, “Oh, another panel study of individuals coming out of the prison system.” I saw 90% and I said, “Wow! This is a really high-quality study” and it’s something that all of us in the criminal justice system need to pay attention to as the study rolls out. When is the completion date for the study?

Dana: It’s going to be completed over the next year or two. The first two sections, which I write about in this piece, one deals with the lifetimes up until incarceration of these folks so everything that happened to them in their childhood and their adolescence. It’s so sad and so fascinating. Secondly, the second part deals with what happens to them when they reenter society after being incarcerated. Do they find a job? Where do they live? What are their relationships like? The third piece is, I think, going to get a lot of attention. That’s going to be on recidivism. How many of these folks end up being incarcerated once again? We’re still waiting for that piece.

Leonard: In this, with a 12 month study, right? Followed the individuals over the course of 12 months?

Dana: I believe so, yes.

Leonard: Okay. It’s fascinating. I’m going to start off with one of the first observations that it’s no surprise that former prisoners are likely to be poor. Many have had troubled upbringings. Over 40% said they had witnessed a homicide. Half had been physically abused by their parent. Spanking did not count. A third had witnessed domestic violence.

I interview a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on this show. Their story mimics what you’ve told in your article. Can you talk to me about that?

Dana: Yeah. One of the things that really surprised me so much was that statistic that 40% of the 122 people in this study had witnessed a homicide. That’s extremely big number for something that you would assume would be very rare. I think what really is driving what we’re talking about here is the segregated high-poverty neighborhoods where these people are growing up. They are living in neighborhoods that are essentially segregated from middle-class America. Crime is concentrated in these places. Family poverty is concentrated. The schools are not particularly effective.

The homes that the children were living in as described in the study were very noisy and chaotic. One person in the study named Patrick, he had his mother who was addicted to heroin and he grew up in his grandparents’ house. There were a dozen other relatives that were constantly moving in and out. The uncles were constantly getting into physical fights with one another and sometimes would set things up on fire. Patrick, as a child, just thought this was normal behavior. It was only as an adult reflecting back decades later, after serving time in prison himself, that he realized that everything that set him on his path to becoming a lawbreaker really began in this chaotic childhood home that struck him as completely normal at the time. I think it’s really important to remember that many of the people in our state prison system, in our jails, they’re coming from a traumatized background that may not even register to them as out of the ordinary.

Leonard: I sent the article out to 4 people who are administrators within the criminal justice system because I always get input from other people before doing radio shows. They said it’s their experience that what Dana is describing in this article is not unusual. It’s just not Boston. Again, I’m fascinated by the high retention rate. I’m fascinated by the quality of the research. The researchers themselves should be really complimented for doing something unique. What they’re saying, what they’re telling me is that what Dana is describing is commonplace. That’s one of the other things that I wanted to get, do you have a sense that this is just the Boston area or this really is something that you can extrapolate to other parts of the country?

Dana: No, absolutely not. These are similar life stories that you’d hear from any group of incarcerated people. I think normally you hear this sort of anecdotally. What this study does is it really gathers a random group of people that are coming out of prison in one year in one place and it’s giving us some data to work with. These are the sort of stories that social workers around the country who deal with this population, probation and parole officers, will tell you that on any day of the week.

Leonard: I do want to tell our audience right up front that I’m quite sure that I’m and Dana, we’re not making excuses for criminality but the reality of what it is that we in parole and probation, because the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington DC, but we in the criminal justice system, especially community corrections, mainstream corrections, this is the population who we have to deal with. People come along and say, “You need to reduce the rates of recidivism. You need to offer programs. You need to provide incentives.” All of which we thoroughly agree with and we’re one of the better-equipped agencies in the country in terms of providing social services to people under supervision but this is a rough group of individuals to help succeed.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. Another thing that was very poignant in this study was that the participants’ crimes often looked really similar to the victimization they had experienced or witnessed as a child. For example, one man in the study, Peter, when he was 12 years old, he watched a man get stabbed to death in a brawl outside a bar in his neighborhood. Well, what do you know? Later on as an adult he was incarcerated after a series of stabbing assaults. There’s this cyclical quality to the type of violence that a child is exposed to. Then for some children, of course not all, many people are exposed to violence and don’t perpetrate violence, but of the population that’s in our prisons, it is a cyclical quality so it’s just really important to consider that when you think about what services are going to be available to people.

Leonard: When I was putting together the program today I did talk with the Commissioner of Corrections. He and I years ago sat down and interviewed younger individuals who were charged with homicide at the Baltimore City Jail. There was quite a few of them. We didn’t use their names. It was for a governor’s crime summit. We were just trying to understand life through their eyes. One of the things that they said was violence is normal. My words, not theirs, but violence is normal. We learned violence in our communities. We learned violence from our immediate upbringing. Violence is something that is good. It protects us. It protects our family. It protects our property. This is something that is normal. This is something that we think is in our best interest and why you don’t understand that, we don’t understand that. Your article, based upon the research, sort of mimics that experience.

Dana: Yes. I think a lot of what’s going on is the sort of the slice against masculinity, ideas of respect. Those are very powerful currencies in the communities where many of our incarcerated people are coming from. What looks like a relatively trivial conflict can often lead to violence in these neighborhoods and communities that are extremely high-poverty and living with extreme scarcity. Those are the experiences that are in the past of the population we’re talking about.

Leonard: You’ve described already that many former prisoners and their family members describe noisy and chaotic childhood homes. We could go on about that if you’d like a little bit more and then we could move over to schools.

Dana: Yeah. I think I basically already described that but it’s basically the sense that there’s no stability. Many of these children are passed from caretaker to caretaker over the course of a childhood. There may be a mother or father who’s a drug addict. They could be passed to a grandparent and then passed into the foster care system and then eventually come out and be reunited with a parent. All of this lack of stability has profound effects on the child’s ability to do well in school, the child’s ability to envision a productive adult life. The child could end up, in the midst of all this instability, looking to their peer group for support and guidance. If the peer group happens to be gang-involved, if the peer group is involved with crime, that can really lead the child astray.

Leonard: You say that school was really a refuge for participants. 81% were suspended or expelled, many as early as elementary school. Few received support services such as counseling or tutoring. Eventually 60% dropped out of high school. If you come from that background educationally, if you come from that background emotionally, the deck is going to be stacked against you.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things that was disheartening about looking at the school portion of the study is that whereas in many middle-class or affluent families there would be a lot of interventions for a troubled kid. A kid who was acting out, a kid who seemed depressed, a kid who had some sort of traumatic experience at home, the school might spring into action and line up a therapist to meet with the child. Parents would be advocating for that. In those kids’ lives, a lot of times the schools looked the other way. It might not necessarily be because the teachers or principals didn’t care but they were overwhelmed. They would have a school where hundreds of children were dealing with similar trauma. The schools didn’t have the resources or the extra support they needed to provide each and every student that needed it with the extra help. School was not a place that was “rescuing” kids from these environments.

Leonard: You’ve already said that violence seemed normal to Patrick, the person that you specifically mentioned. Ultimately 41% of the study participants served time for violent crimes. Violence is an integral, everyday, normal process in the lives of the people who were interviewed.

Dana: Yeah. That’s really important to think about because I think the entire criminal justice reform conversation right now, a big part of it is about decreasing the sentences and being more rehabilitative for people who have done nonviolent crimes. We have this image of the kid who’s maybe picked up for selling a little bit of drugs or maybe he was driving in a car and his friend was the one who shot the gun. Actually, a huge proportion of our prisoners have themselves been involved in multiple incidences of violence. If we’re really looking at turning around our criminal justice system, decreasing mass incarceration, focusing more on rehabilitation within our criminal justice system, we must have this focus on those who have been convicted of violent crimes.

Leonard: I do want to talk about that but we are at the break. The program is going by like wildfire. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes for Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. You can reach her at, the

Dana, that is the issue right now because there is a huge conversation going on in the country. I’m assuming, I’ve been told that every governor has talked to every correctional administrator in every state basically saying we can no longer sustain the level of incarceration. We’ve got to cut back on the numbers of people that we incarcerate. We’re spending far more money on prisons than we are on colleges and schools. In that light, you are now finding bipartisan support for justice reform across the board but nobody is really quite sure what justice reform means. Your comments before the break are correct. We’re really focusing on the nonviolent rather than the violent but so many individuals who are being charged with nonviolent crimes have violent histories. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to come to grips with who the individuals are within the criminal justice system and provide services if we’re going to break the cycle of incarceration.

Dana: Yeah, Len, you’re exactly right. Even those who are convicted of nonviolent crimes as you rightfully point out may have a violent history in their past. You think about the bipartisan movement across the country that’s springing on us and saying “We’re really going to reduce our prison population.” That’s, in my view, a very positive saying but where the consensus can unravel is exactly this question of can we look to a more rehabilitative, less punitive approach for our violent offenders? Oftentimes, when you talk to the conservative folks who support criminal justice reform, they actually would like to maybe even stiffen sentences for violent criminals. I’ve written another article about this which reports on the Cut 50 Movement, the idea that you need to reduce the prison population by 50% which so far some of the conservatives are quite skeptical of. There is consensus but underneath that there is still debate about how exactly do we want to treat those who are convicted of violent offenses. This Boston Reentry Study is, I think, quite powerful in humanizing who those people really are.

Leonard: I think that’s one of the reasons why we bring current people caught up in the criminal justice system and people who are off supervision because the issue is that I’ll sit there and I’ll have three people in front of me and I’ll say, “Okay, you are a criminal.” I say that specifically just to provoke a reaction from that individual. That person will sit back and go, “Look, Leonard. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not a criminal” which is the best possible answer. Then I would elicit from them what was created for them, what did they create for themselves to remove themselves from the criminal justice system to do better while under supervision. Services, services, services, programs seems to be such a huge issue, yet if you take a look at surveys of state prison systems, 10% are getting drug treatment. A similar percentage are getting mental health treatment. If 80% of the people caught up in the criminal justice system have histories of substance abuse, if 50% have histories of mental health, unless we provide the programs we’re not going to break the cycle.

Dana: You’re absolutely right. That’s just appalling that there are not more available than there are, given what we know about this population. Since you mentioned those with mental health issues, one of the interesting things about the Boston study that I’m writing about here is that female offenders, although they were only 12% of the sample, some of the findings on them were very interesting. They were much more likely to have mental illness issues, for example. We know that the women in prison especially need some of these services.

Leonard: You say that nearly all of the female offenders in the study, 12% of the sample, reported being survivors of sexual violence.

Dana: Yes. That is stunning in and of itself. Basically, all of the women in prison in Boston had experienced sexual violence in their life previous to being incarcerated. I think there’s two things that come from that. First, you want to make sure that prison itself is to the extent possible as free of sexual violence as possible. We know we’re on a nationwide effort with PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, to deal with that. It’s very important for women inmates as well as male inmates. Secondly, again, it’s an area where therapeutic services need to be available. There needs to be space within the system for women to talk about and heal from these experiences.

Leonard: We run groups here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for women. The groups that I participated in, and they have to vote to let me in, and for the ones who I’ve interviewed by these microphones, virtually to a person they have talked about the fact that they were sexually assaulted by a family member, or a friend of the family, or somebody in the community before their mid-teens. This is a common experience, I think.

Dana: Yes, that’s very, very common. It’s very common.

Leonard: Okay. I want to ask a larger philosophical question and then I want to get into the fact that those who were picked up from prison and who had welcoming parties and spent fewer hours alone, they seemed to adjust better than those who didn’t because people are intrigued by the next phase of it.  What works? What can we do? What can the system do? My question is this: If we are dealing with individuals with such profound emotional histories in terms of childhood trauma, in terms of not doing well in school which is an understatement, if they’re dealing with histories of violence directed towards them, and women, sexual violence, and virtually all the women that I’ve talked to have had children, does it get to the point where it almost becomes impossible for the criminal justice system, let alone the larger society, to deal with people who have such profound issues?

Dana: I hate to say impossible because I know that there’s probation officers and therapists within prisons that are helping people turn their lives around every day. What I do want to say is what’s clear from these findings is that our prison system has become our social safety net of last resort. In the absence of a robust mental health system, in the absence of a robust drug-addiction treatment system in this country, in the absence of a robust effort to reform and improve all urban schools, not just a couple of famous charter schools, we see the prison system step up and be the place where society chooses to send these folks that fall through every other crack. We know the cracks are large, the cracks are gaping for this population of people so what we’re asking the prison system to do in turning around these people’s lives is in fact basically an unrealistic expectation given that we haven’t provided a lot of other safety nets to help these folks.

Leonard: There are programs, you would agree, that do cut recidivism by anywhere from 10-20%. 10-20% fewer people going back to the prison system can mean eventually the savings of billions of dollars and smaller prison systems so the programs … There is a point where the programs do apply. There is a point where the programs do work but the programs have to be there. The programs have to exist and they have to exist in sufficient numbers to have an impact.

Dana: Right. We know that there’s wonderful programs that help people get jobs that cut recidivism rates, that college classes behind bars significantly cut recidivism rates. We know that anger management in our cognitive behavioral therapy can help cut recidivism rates. We do know that there’s all these things that work but they’re not available to every person that needs them.

Leonard: Let’s talk about life after release. Those who were picked up from prison by loved ones who had welcome home parties and who spent fewer hours alone in their first week of adjustment seemed to do better than others which echoes a theme that we have here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of family support for those people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. There seems to be some connection between family support and how well they do.

Dana: Yeah. It’s not that there was anything so magical about having a party. It was really the fact that you had the party and that you spent fewer hours alone meant that you had the family and friends that were checking in with you and cared about you and that you had kept in contact with them while you were incarcerated enough that they were there for you when you left. It’s also really important to mention the issue of age here. The median age in this study was 34. The people who were coming out in their late teens or twenties or early thirties had significantly more family support than the older people who came out in their forties or fifties or even later.

Leonard: Really? Okay.

Dana: We have very long sentences in this country and people sometimes are in state prison for a very long time. People who came out when they were younger had a better adjustment period.

Leonard: That’s interesting.

Dana: That’s important to think about when we think about what is the utility of these super-long sentences.

Leonard: 6 months after reentry more than half of the participants remained reliant on family, typically mothers, grandmothers, or sisters. About a third were living in marginal housing. That data mimics our data here.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. The female relatives were really still pulling these men along after them. It was very, very stressful on the families of the reentering people. For example, oftentimes an order of protection would prevent a man from going home to live with his mother. He might be 19 or 20 years old and have nowhere else to go. The mother has to make the decision. She’s going to let her son come back and live in the house and she’s going to lose her Section 8 housing voucher. Her and the rest of her younger kids will be kicked out of their apartment or she’s going to send her son out to the street. For Jeff, one young man who was in the study, his mother did have to make the difficult choice to tell her son, 20 years old, that he could not come home and live with her. This is the way people end up homeless.

Leonard: You say that only 59% were employed before they were incarcerated. 6 months after reentry, 57% of the men were working and just 27% of the women. Is that sexual discrimination or are there other factors?

Dana: Yeah. The men were about as likely to be employed after incarceration as before which I think suggests that they suffered from very high unemployment levels both before and after. For the women, incarceration had a devastating effect. They were 20% less likely to be employed after being incarcerated. There’s two potential reasons cited, the researchers pointed out. The first is that the women who are incarcerated were more likely to be mentally ill or drug-addicted. That may really impact them as they’re coming out and trying to find a job in a negative way. Also, on the more positive side, relatives are more likely to take a female relative into their home. If women were getting housing support from their mothers or sisters, then perhaps it wasn’t so important for them to go get a job immediately after leaving prison.

Leonard: There is national data that suggests that women under supervision have higher rates of mental health problems and higher rates of substance abuse problems. You add that to kids and as the women have said to me sitting before these microphones, “How are we supposed to succeed, come out of prison, find a job, reunite with our children, deal with mental health issues, deal with substance abuse issues, deal with the trauma issues in our own lives and succeed?” There is a point where the women have said, “It’s almost impossible for us to meet your expectations.”

Dana: Yeah. It’s important that, as you mentioned earlier, almost all of these women are mothers. This is a double-generation issue that we’re talking about when we’re talking about women and reentry after being incarcerated.

Leonard: Okay, I want to quickly, because we’re running out of time … Ban the Box in Massachusetts didn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

Dana: Yeah, that’s what the researchers found. Even though employers are no longer allowed to check right away about the criminal history of the job applicant, they can still check the criminal history later in the application process, after the interview. In the words of Bruce Western, the sociologist who did this study, “It looks like they’re still checking their criminal history and it doesn’t matter if they may have met the person and he seems like a pretty good guy. They’re still discriminating heavily against people who do have that criminal history.”

Leonard: Those on parole and probation, thus under the [inaudible 00:28:14] supervision were more likely to be re-incarcerated which again mimics other national studies.

Dana: Right.

Leonard: They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes but for violating the rules of probation or parole.

Dana: Yes. We’ve certainly seen this in California and a lot of other places where this has been looked at. This is a bit of a sneak peek about what’s coming next from the researchers who are looking at this very fascinating population of adults in Boston. They are finding that those who are re-incarcerated, a lot of times they have failed a drug test, broken curfew, missed meetings, that type of thing.

Leonard: The study’s overall findings … We should increase our empathy for people who go to prison, most of whom came from brutal poverty. If we were in these situations, the researchers suggest, if we were in these situations and if we were to encounter these complex combinations of circumstances, could we be confident that we would exercise our moral agency to do something different, there for the grace of God [inaudible 00:29:16]?

Dana: Yeah, that’s what Bruce Western, the Harvard sociologist said. He really wants us all to think about if we had grown up in a home, a home like Patrick, would we have turned out very different from Patrick? Perhaps the answer to that is no. That’s one of the big questions that a study like this should leave in our minds.

Leonard: Fascinating interview, went by so fast. I have a thousand other questions but they’ll have to wait until next time. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project and she writes for Justice Lab. Her work has appeared in Slate, Atlantic, and other magazines. She is the author of The Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, is the website. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Communications in Law Enforcement and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is D.C. public safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Communications in law enforcement and the president’s task force on 21st century policing is our topic today. I want to make it clear from the very beginning that the discussion applies to all of us within the criminal justice system. To discuss the issues I’ve asked two experts on criminal justice and communication to join us today. One is Deborah Winger, she is the director of undergraduate journalism, associate professor of the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. She is at We also have Ted Guest, he is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report, To Deb, and to Ted welcome to D.C. public safety.

Ted: Thank you.

Deborah : Thank you.

Leonard: All right, the president’s task force on 21st century policing, I’ve read this several times. I’ve had one of the two co-chairs Laurie Robinson, who used to be a deputy attorney general at the U.S. of Department of Justice on the program previously. I’ll put the connection to the prior program in the show notes, in essence, I’m reading the report as dealing with communications, a fundamental pillar. They indeed did call their particular sections that they wanted to draw attention to pillars. I am going to read just a couple. Building trust and legitimacy, guardian mindset rather than a warrior mindset, culture of transparency and accountability, dealing with social media and a focus on community policing. All of these suggest to me a different way of communicating between law enforcement and the community and the criminal justice system in the community. So that’s my understanding of the president’s task force of the 21st century policing, that the big focus is on communications.

So I wanted to ask you a series of questions about that. They are talking about issues; creating a positive interaction with the police? My question is, with the focus on social media and the focus on communications do we in the criminal justice system and to those of us in law enforcement, are we really equipped to have a sophisticated conversation with the public as to policing or other aspects of the criminal justice system. Ted did you want to go first?

Ted: Yeah, I would say we don’t have such a sophisticated system. By the way, I don’t think the criminal justice system is much worse than any other government agency or any other entity in the United States, some specialize in this so I don’t want to be seen as saying the criminal justice system is the worst. One thing we should keep in mind in this conversation, the criminal justice system in this country is very diverse, it has various elements, the basic ones, the police, the courts, corrections agencies. We should keep in mind there is something like 18,000 police department in this country.

Leonard: Yes.

Ted: There is not a central authority. So when, we are going to have to make generalizations in this broadcast. We should all keep in mind, most of our listeners will know this there is no central authority telling people to do. This task force I thought had a lot of good ideas but it’s basically an advisory body of a bunch of experts but no one has the authority to implement this on a national scale, an individual police department or part of the justice system could agree or disagree with any of the recommendations, I think the recommendations are basically good. To answer your question, I don’t think on a broad scale I don’t think we are really equipped right now to implement them.

Leonard: Deborah, did you want to tackle that question?

Deborah : Yes, I want to follow up on something that Ted said about entities in general. Whether it’s a governmental agency, a law enforcement agency, a brand, a news organization, we are witnessing a major paradigm shift in the way communication happens in general. The rise of audience power, for law enforcement agency the audience is anyone you’re serving or protecting, right? Their ability to communicate with you and to engage with you if you do practice social media has never been greater. It’s really changed the dynamic of the relationship for communicator’s. We used to be able to simply broadcast to simply publish, and have very little knowledge about how we were being perceived or whether the information was understood. When you use these new technologies effectively you should be able to communicate in real time with real people. Most of us do not have the infrastructure to make that happen. Even news organizations that this is their reason for being, right, to communicate information. They are not always doing as good of job as they should at engaging and interacting with the audience.

Leonard: The processes of communicating is changing rapidly. It’s changing rapidly, for mainstream media, its changing rapidly for organizations that are trying to communicate. In the middle of all of this whirlwind of change, new technologies, new apps, new social media platforms, podcasting is going through a resurgence. How are we going to expect law enforcement agencies, Ted said it, 18,000 individual law enforcement agencies around the country. There’s certain police department, like the Washington D.C. police department, the New York police department, they do an extraordinary job of communicating with the public but most law enforcement agencies and I think most of us within the criminal justice system do not know how to communicate. When the president task force in 21st century policing comes along and since communicates a huge part of our ability to do a better job to serve the public. I’m sitting there whoops there’s a disconnect here.

Ted: It depends when we are talking about communications we are talking about a wide range of things. Some of the communications are coming from the police department or law enforcement authority to the community. Let’s say alerting people to some kind of emergency, I think on that level we are certainly doing a better job then we are used to. Of course, a lot of people in the public may not have the technology either may not own it or may not have it available and may not be hearing the message. That is just one very elemental level of communication. Let’s remember why we are having this discussion about the 21st century policing task force.

Why did this happen? It happened essential there was a big episode that most of our, all of our listeners should know about. Last summer in Ferguson, Missouri in which the shooting of an unarmed black man got a huge amount of publicity and generated a huge amount of controversy. A lot of the controversy, I think as far as communications was concerned had to do with the police departments not talking about it when it first happened. Again, that kind of thing I am not sure the 21st century policing task force really make a firm recommendation on. That’s the kind of thing that I would like to see among many other things. When should a police department, or law enforcement agency be talking about an incident that is controversial. Again there are many different kinds of communications. Not to forget the obvious, just basic communication about crime in your community.

One thing that has changed a lot in recent years, is much better communications to people there used to be a police blotter that used to be published, and still it’s published in a lot of newspapers but now we have the available via social media so just again that is a very basic thing when did the crime occur in the community just so you know that information. In this conversation we should take into account there are many different levels of communication, many different kinds of incidents we should be discussing its just not one central thing, communicating everything.

Leonard: That’s my point. My point, Deborah in all of this is that the average police commander in the average police department in this country reading the president task force on 21st century policing with its emphasize on social media, with its emphasize on communication, with its emphasize on building trust, with its emphasize on building legitimacy, he or she is sitting there going “Oh my heavens, what in the name of heavens am I supposed to do with this information, what communication platform should I engage in, what builds legitimacy, what builds trust”. I think it is very confusing to them unless someone comes out and provides some sort of firm guidance in terms of what we means in terms by communications it’s all going to go by the waist side. Some have suggested that to me. Do you have the sense Deb?

Deborah : Well one of the things to follow what Ted was saying with Ferguson is I would say that any police or law enforcement organization needs to understand a couple of things the control of information, we no longer control as much information as we had in the past. To think that we don’t say anything about the incident, that someone else is not going to say anything about the incident if anybody still believes that they should quickly disabuse themselves of that perception. I would say that any organization that is going to be involved in communication information to the public that every organization needs to have a crisis communication plan. They need to be prepared for information about an incident involving law enforcement to not go there way and to know how to respond to that and to be prepared to monitor twitter, to see what topic’s are trending relating to this issue. To be able to quickly leverage the trust that they’ve built prior to the crisis occurring to have people who are going to already be followers re-tweeting the correct information if wrong information is getting out there.

Go ahead.

Leonard: No please.

Deborah : I was just going to say all of this needs to happen on the front end before the first crisis occurs, you cannot try to tackle this when there’s an incident.

Leonard: Law enforcement is no different than the average organization. They all believe it is not going to happen to them. I am not quite sure that Ferguson the day before the incident  ever dreamed that they would be up against national and international media and be up against hundreds of thousands if not millions of social media messages. That takes organization, that takes pre planning, that takes an offal lot of preparation to handle something like that. The average police department is not going to deal with that, heck the average company is not going to deal with that. My guess is that there is a reluctance to invest that level of time and trouble and energy into something most people feel they are not going to face until it actually happens.

Deborah : I think you are correct. I think you could look at it as this incredibly time intensive, resource intensive effort. I think if that had … again we weren’t there, in the middle of it with the law enforcement officials, I think you are probably right that they never did have a discussion about how are we going to handle the communication around any type of crisis. I think that is where it has to start. You at least have to, you might throw the plan out but you have to dedicate some time to at least discussing on a very fundamental basic level. Who are we going to pull in to manage the twitter account or the Facebook account looking at the report we that we referencing today. It looked like a majority of law enforcement have either a Facebook or a twitter account. We know we can narrow it to that, but who is going to be there monitoring what is being said and responding with accurate information in a professional manner, again leveraging the trust that you hopefully have built through your efforts in social media prior to this event occurring.

Leonard: That’s my fear. Ted go ahead.

Ted: One thing, going back to my 18,000 police departments statement, we should keep in mind here some of our listeners may not know this, most of these police departments are very small. I think Ferguson actually was one of the bigger ones which may surprise people, like fifty officers. Sometimes we think of New York City which has 32,000 officers but they are way on the extreme. Many departments in this country I think as many as a third or more have ten or fewer officers. These people no matter how well meaning they are really don’t have the time and expertise to develop these kinds of policies which is one reason why possibly this policing task force is good because it will help focus people’s attention on some of these issues. Even focused people’s attention on them, you have to think of these small police departments of 10 people are they going to have this has high as high on their agenda. They probably have it higher on their agenda now then they did a couple years ago, we should keep that in mind.

Leonard: Let’s go back, I do want to refocus away a little bit from crisis communications to day to day communications. They are talking about creating a positive interaction with law enforcement, levels of trust, diversity, recruitment, a regular forum, recognizing the voices of youth, interactive distance learning, public engagement all of this signals a digital platform of communicating. Before the show I said, either an individual police officer can go to a community meeting and discuss their plans with thirty people or you can have individual police officers taught how to better interact that they encounter within the community or you can go to a digital strategy and talk to thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands at the same time. So it seems to me that clearly that a digital straggly would and a social media strategy that the report calls for would be a productive way to interact with citizens as long as citizens had a way of answering and responding the polls, so police officers or anybody in the criminal justice system can learn from the interaction. It seems to me a digital strategy is vital.

Deborah : I agree.

Ted: It certainly is. Again to go back to what I said before and I am pretty sure that Deb will agree with you have to know what the message is, what are you trying to get across. We could have all of the techniques in hand which a lot of departments do and a lot don’t. We don’t have time on this show to go into all the controversies about policing but there’s a big dispute right now going on around the country about what should police be doing about minor offensives. You know, there’s one argument is they should be very aggressive about dealing with every kind of minor offense because the person involved could end up in major offensives. Then there’s another group of people who say no we should emphasizing violent crime, serious crime, police shouldn’t be dealing with people smoking pot on the street. That kind of thing.

Well a police department has to have its own policy, I am just using that as an example, decided so it can communicate that kind of thing to the public. We assume police want to communicate more than what I described earlier as the police blotter there was a burglary  yesterday on Pennsylvania Avenue, that’s one thing to communicate but do communicate policy issues you got to have the message straight as well as the actually technique of doing it.

Leonard: Ladies and gentleman, I want to reintroduce our guest Deborah Winger. She is the director of Undergraduate journalism, associate professor of the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. She has her own site, which I find fascinating and I’ve gone to several times since I’ve done the last radio show. We have Ted Guest, he is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report,, to be unquestionably best daily summation of crime news throughout the country.

Let me swing it back, because if we got a discussion what police should do we would be here for the rest of the show. Ted is right, I’ve read a variety of reports, a variety of newspaper articles through Ted’s service I should say and there is massive disagreement all throughout the United States in terms of what we want to do operationally in terms of law enforcement. If we don’t have a core message, if we don’t have a core national understanding as to what it is we want to do within law enforcement what in the name of heavens are we going to be communicating to citizens.

Deborah : I think that is exactly what any agency regardless of size needs to figure out. What is the purpose of our social media account and to be realistic about the resources. I think a mistake a lot of organizations have made is to try to put all the social media control in to one person’s hands and you know you certainly understand the rational behind that is because you want a controlled message. If it’s only in one person’s hands and there on vacation you are out of luck. You know the social media works best when you have lots of people in your organization allowed to post to social media that there’s a clear understanding throughout the organization of what is the type of content that we are going to share and how are we going to interact and again that takes training, that takes time. If the end result is better policing, a safer community then it certainly seems worth it. The very beginning you have to decide what resources do we have that we can put towards this effort and what is our goal. Is our goal to reach youth? Well then we are going to have a very different strategy then if our goal is to communicate crisis.

For me part of it again having that first conversation and making sure everyone in your organization law enforcement or otherwise understands what you are trying to do with your social media account.

Leonard: That’s part of the divergence and complexity of social media, with every audience you may have different strategy. There are some people out there that use Instagram as an example to communicate with younger audiences, and a possibility of using Facebook to deal with older audiences. Yet [inaudible 00:20:38] can out with a report that basically said, “No, the young folks are still on Facebook and there hasn’t been a huge shift to Instagram”.

Deb, you may know this because we are part of the social media community and Ted is part of this discussion but how is the average chief of police in the average city going to figure this out. A new form of communicating with the larger community if it’s indeed podcast or television shows or Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, where does he or she go to for guidance to learn all this stuff, to implement it in a meaningful way in the community and figuring out what measurement tools are available so he or she can get the feedback they are looking for from the larger community. That is an unbelievable difficult task for the average law enforcement agency or anybody within the criminal justice system.

Deborah : I think I would say two things right off the top of my head. One is don’t get attracted to the shiny. Just because Meercat and Periscope are available for live streaming for Twitter doesn’t mean you have to jump on it. I mean, yes experiment with tools and somebody in your organization should be that perons who is geeked out by communication technology and it’s always experimenting. I would actually consider trying to hopefully you have a relationship with local media and leveraging their knowledge about the community and the social midday tools that are used most commonly in the community. Meeting with the webmaster or the digital producer of the local television station or someone in the newspaper and say, “How are you reaching audiences?”. I mean learn from what other people are doing versus reinventing the wheel. Especially if you don’t have the resources to send your PIO to training or you know you don’t have a staff of people in your communication office. I would say try to learn what other are already successful in these platforms what they are doing well. You know try to translate that to what you are trying to accomplish as law enforcement agency.

Leonard: Ted, can the average chief of police go to the average newspaper and television station and say “Help me engage in social media platform”.

Ted: Yeah they can certainly go, I mean I think every news media organization in this country wants to have relationships with the police departments. They might not always be pleasant and positive relations but a lot of are. We deal with police departments daily. I am talking about the news media in general. I am sure that news directors and editors would talk to that doesn’t necessary have to be the police chief but as least the department have a public information officer or as Deb said someone designated to be the social media person.

Also again we have been talking about talking to the community a lot of the bigger police departments do periodic surveys of the police department. Whether it’s an informal thing or some kind of an actual survey, not only what you think about our policy on this or that but they could include in that how do you get information, which social media do you use, is their any information you think you should be getting you are not getting. Again I realize we are talking about we are talking about a small place department is not going to be able to do what huge [inaudible 00:24:23] type survey but I think police department should be able to do that in some way. Actually as social media makes it easier when we are talking about e-mail when we are talking about doing a survey. Again not that you would necessarily be guided by everything the public said but at least it would give you a better idea about what information they are getting and what they would want.

Leonard: There are free tools out there like Survey monkey that can allow them to do that. I am going to throw out another suggestion. Partnering with colleges, partnering with the communications and journalism classes with colleges and sit down with them and say, “How do I communicate, how do I get feedback, how do I quantify that feedback, how do I make that it a meaningful exchange”. I think journalism is changing, they are just as challenged as everybody else, the journalism schools. At least they are examining this issue they would be wonderful places to assist local law enforcement agencies. Agree or disagree?

Deborah : Absolutely, I mean certainly here in beautiful Oxford, Mississippi where the University of Mississippi is located our local police department is very active on Twitter for example, and if someone came to us and said “Hey, we want a crash course in better engagement on Twitter”. I know there are several faculty that would be delighted to do something like this. I think that is an excellent idea as well.

Leonard: So I am not suggesting replacing community meetings, community meetings are essential. I go back to the idea where you can go and sit with 100 or you can go and talk with social media and talk with thousands. I am suggesting the possibly of doing both. If you are going to do it digitally it has to be not just you suggested a little while ago Deb, not just the public affairs person, the chief the deputy chief the commander at various districts need to be able to do this as well correct? They need to have this constant check in with the community, what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, where are we messing up. That has to be across the board throughout the agency, there has to be a larger sense not I think what others have said more communication with media. Media is in the position of being in the conduit to get the word out beyond social media. Correct?

Deborah : Absolutely, and something that you said, “Not giving up on the community meeting”. Why not make the impact exponential go to the community meeting come up with a hashtag for the meeting and encourage everyone at the meeting to tweet about what they are hearing at the community meeting. Then you had the one on one interaction then you spread it to those who cannot be included to that particular meeting. Figure out how to leverage the things the things you are already doing and expand them through the use of social media and part of that is to train more than one person in the department on how to do this properly and effectively.

Leonard: Ted, we have one minute left. In terms of working with the media being more open and approachable to and more cooperative to with the media, we in the criminal justice system we have a hard time doing that. Do we not?

Deborah : You know…

Ted: I don’t know its hard to generalize that. Some agencies do it every well, other agencies don’t do it very well. A lot of agencies unfortunately perceive that the media is interested in so called bad news about your agencies and in those cases it can be pretty hard to communicate

Leonard: A question to either one of you. Can we partner with the media then? Can the criminal justice system partner with the media, in terms of communicating with the public and getting reation to the public? Is that permissiable?

Deborah : I think the media and law enforcement need each other. I think most smart folks in both areas understand that. I think the more they can do to build relationships and whether that’s you know, training for each other or simply sharing the practices the better off the community is and each of the individual entities.

Leonard: It’s a fascinating conversation with both of you. I appreciate so much both of you being before the microphones today because this is a very complexing issue, the proper communicating between law enforcement, the criminal justice and the public it is a very complex issue. So thank you very much for being at the microphones today. Ladies and gentleman we had Deborah Winger, she is director of undergraduate journalism, associate professor at the Meek School of Journalism University of Mississippi. She has her own blog, extraordinarily interesting, Ted Guest is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report and somebody who has been around journalism for decades. Somebody who I really trust, Ladies and gentleman this is D.C. public safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.