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New UMD Research Focuses on Improving Police Community Relationships in Baltimore

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Baltimore - Photo by Irina Sitnikova
Photo by Irina Sitnikova

A team of University of Maryland researchers has been awarded a $370,000 grant from Arnold Ventures with additional funds from the Abell Foundation for a project designed to inform policymaking on the allocation of responsibilities between the police and other agencies in Baltimore City. The goal is to help reduce crime and improve police-community relationships.

The project is a collaboration between researchers affiliated with the Maryland Crime Research and Innovation Center at the University of Maryland, with appointments in the Department of Criminology and the School of Public Policy. Peter Reuter, a Distinguished University Professor with appointments in both units, will lead the research team. His Co-PIs include Brooklynn Hitchens, Greg Midgette, and Lauren Porter of the Department of Criminology and Thomas Luke Spreen of the School of Public Policy.

The project will start by building a deeper understanding of the sources of tension between the police and the community in Baltimore. The team will conduct in-depth interviews and focus groups with residents to better understand what the police do (or do not do) that is distressing and their perceptions of how the police could do their jobs differently. The project team will also cultivate relationships with a variety of community organizations to ensure that the full range of community perspectives are represented in the study.

Informed by the community interviews, a second strand of research will assess which police functions could be plausibly re-tasked to civilian agencies and how these transitions may affect the city’s budget. This step will involve using detailed police service records to identify which police calls pose little to no risk to first responders or residents and may benefit from transition to civilian case workers. Re- tasking certain service calls could allow the Baltimore Police Department to refocus those resources on core police functions such as addressing the low clearance rate for violent crimes. This transition may also result in financial savings to the city and its residents while improving police-community relationships.

Finally, the project will examine the experiences of other cities that have shifted some responsibilities from the police department to other agencies. What has worked and what challenges have other jurisdictions encountered? What can Baltimore learn from these experiences?

The project team will highlight the findings of this research in a series of reports disseminated through the Abell Foundation with recommendations for the Baltimore Police Department, the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the City Council, and the community. The study will also yield insights that will enable more informed decisions about police responsibilities nationally.

Dean Robert Orr of the School of Public Policy said: “The School is very pleased to have this opportunity to hear from a diverse range of community members to gain a better understanding of what the police can do—or not do—to help improve civil-police relationships.”

Dr. Sally Simpson, Interim Chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said: “This project simultaneously builds closer ties with residents, leaders, and organizations in the Baltimore community while unpacking how the police can strengthen relations with communities of color. Many prior studies have investigated the nature of police-community tensions; this study is innovative in its aim to identify the sources of these tensions and explore tangible ways of improving the delivery services.”

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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