Penn State EPISCenter guides police with crime prevention

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As tensions remain high between citizens and police in many communities across the nation, a Pennsylvania police department has reached out to Penn State researchers for help using prevention science to both prevent crime and strengthen police-community relations.

Brian Bumbarger, founding director and principal investigator for the Evidence-based Prevention and Intervention Support Center (EPISCenter), a project of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, said the Susquehanna Township Police Department’s decision to focus on prevention is innovative and forward-thinking.

“With the support of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Susquehanna Township Police Department in Dauphin County near Harrisburg is doing something that is groundbreaking because, as a law enforcement entity, it has made a philosophical statement to dedicate resources for crime prevention, specifically by fostering positive development of young people in the community,” Bumbarger said. “This changes the whole relationship between children and police in the community, and is noteworthy in a broader cultural context with current tensions between communities and law enforcement across the country.”

Bumbarger added, “This is a timely and important statement for the Susquehanna Township Police Department to make because it is investing in developing relationships and helping young people develop productive lives, rather than simply waiting for them to make bad decisions – which all adolescents are prone to do – and then punishing them. The department is moving away from outdated ideas to an approach that reflects the latest research from the fields of criminology, child development and neuroscience.”

There are hundreds of crime prevention programs available to police departments and other agencies across America. The EPISCenter assists agencies by wading through the sea of information to identify the programs that work and matching the appropriate science-supported programs with a community’s specific demographics and needs.

For youth crime prevention, the EPISCenter promotes a prevention agenda in a scientifically informed way, in part, by working with communities to create a diagnostic data profile of the specific risks for the children who live in that community, and then helping the community determine which research-based prevention programs match their prioritized needs. Then the EPISCenter assists community members with program implementation, to ensure that programs are delivered with quality.

“The traditional approach in police work, especially with young people is to react after they commit a crime, call the police, arrest them, and then send them to a detention center,” Bumbarger said. “But we know from decades of prevention science that many of these crimes are preventable and that the cost of good prevention approaches is much lower and potentially more effective in the long run then simply locking kids up.”

The Susquehanna Township Police Department is shifting to a model of prevention, in part, by implementing internal tactics, such as Honorable Endeavor, which requires officers to stop and engage with children they encounter on patrol. Additionally, by consulting with the EPISCenter and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the department is working to implement new, research-supported crime prevention programs.

“The approach Susquehanna Township is taking recognizes there is a growing body of scientific evidence that helps identify risk factors that increase the likelihood young people get involved in truancy, drugs, and other crime, and police can use that scientific knowledge to refocus their attention and resources that prevent the crimes from occurring in the first place,” Bumbarger said.

Susquehanna Township Police Chief Rob Martin understands the value in the EPISCenter’s services as it relates to accomplishing the department’s crime prevention goals.

“Prevention should be the core function of law enforcement,” said Martin. “Preventive measures build relationships with the public we serve, and it is far more cost-efficient than reactive policing. We are looking to learn from the EPISCenter and be a partner.”

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Last Updated March 08, 2016