District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute

DCPI Studies

The D.C. Crime Policy Institute engages in original research on crime policy matters of interest to the mayor and the citizens of the District of Columbia. DCPI research will generally fall into two categories: research that informs strategic objectives and research concerned with ongoing justice systems operations. The goal of the first objective is to identify recurring events with long-term impacts on crime and public safety in the District of Columbia and find evidence-based solutions. The goal of the latter objective is to help agencies improve outcomes by implementing evidence-based policies and practices. DCPI staff develops research in collaboration with key leaders of D.C. agencies, JGA, and EOM. DCPI studies are carried out by researchers associated with the Urban Institute, the Brookings Institution, and researchers from external organizations, as appropriate.

Final Reports

The District of Columbia Mayor's Focused Improvement Area Initiative:
Review of the Literature Relevant to Collaborative Crime Reduction

Authors: Jesse Jannetta, Megan Denver, Caterina Gouvis Roman, Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, Martha Ross, and Benjamin Orr

This document presents the results of a literature review on approaches to reducing crime and improving neighborhoods that were intended to produce community-level impacts, involved multiple approaches, and were carried out by cross-agency partnerships. The review included efforts focused solely on reducing or preventing crime as well as efforts with broader goals concerning improving neighborhood or resident well-being. The first section covers programmatic elements of initiatives: the strategies, interventions, and activities that successful efforts have employed. The second section covers process and structural elements, with subsections devoted to interagency collaboration, community engagement, and sustainability. 

Promising Practices of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department

Authors: Jocelyn Fontaine, Joshua Markman, and Carey Nadeau

In recent years, Washington, DC has experienced sizable declines in violent crime. These declines have outpaced national trends across most violent crime categories. To explore the role of the Metropolitan Police Department in the violent crime decline, researchers conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with department leadership and staff to understand the critical components within the department's violent crime strategy. Approximately fifty initiatives were discussed. Using extant literature on policing best practices to categorize the initiatives, the study concludes that MPD places significant emphasis on community policing, among other strategies. Implications for the department’s strategic planning process are discussed.

FY2011 Projects

Evaluation of the DC Put Families First Program

Principal Investigators: Joshua Markman and Jocelyn Fontaine 

DCPI researchers will evaluate the implementation of functional family therapy (FFT) services provided to system-involved or at-risk youth in the District of Columbia through the DC Put Families First Project. The Put Families First project is managed by Evidence-Based Associates, Inc., which is partnering with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the Child and Family Services Agency, and the Parent Adolescent Support Services within the Department of Human Services to implement FFT in DC. The implementation evaluation will be based on a review of the extant literature related to FFT and its implementation in other jurisdictions, interviews with District stakeholders and focus groups with participating families, a review of the administrative and programmatic data collected through the Put Families First Project, field observations, and an assessment of the feasibility of a robust impact evaluation for future analyses.

Project Start Date: December, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

Evaluation of the Frequent Users Service Engagement Pilot Project

Principal Investigator: Jocelyn Fontaine 

Building on a researcher-practitioner partnership that has been evolving for more than two years, researchers will assess the utility of permanent supportive housing as a practical solution to the population that frequently cycles through the jail and shelter system ("frequent users") in the District of Columbia. In collaboration with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, University Legal Services, and the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DC Jail), researchers will conduct a process and outcome evaluation of the Frequent Users Service Engagement Pilot Project, which aims to provide permanent supportive housing to approximately 50 frequent users and assess the feasibility of an impact evaluation.

Project Start Date: October, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

The Mayor’s Focused Improvement Area Initiative Evaluation, Continued

Principal Investigators: Jocelyn Fontaine and Akiva Liberman 

The Focused Improvement Area (FIA) Initiative is a community-based initiative that aims to reduce criminal activity and increase the quality of life in at-risk communities by combining community policing with human and social services delivery. It was launched in November 2007 within three neighborhoods, and four additional neighborhoods were added in May 2008.

DCPI researchers began assessing the FIA Initiative in the Spring of 2010, and developing recommendations to strengthen the Initiative. In this second year, DCPI will provide training and technical assistance to the Executive Office of the Mayor and the government partners, to assist in enhancing this community-based crime prevention and crime reduction effort, based on the strategic planning document produced by DCPI in 2010. DCPI will also analyze place-based data to identify areas in need of the services associated with the FIA Initiative. Finally, DCPI will conduct a process and outcome evaluation of the redesigned Initiative.

Project Start Date: October, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

Research on Youth Commitments

Principal Investigators: Akiva Liberman and John K. Roman

Youth commitments to the custody of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services have been higher recently than in earlier years. This has been happening against a background of changes in DYRS and its facilities as well as changes in crime and arrest patterns. Changes in the behavior of other criminal justice and juvenile justice actors can also affect how and when youth are committed to the custody of DYRS.

To attempt to understand why youth commitments have risen, DCPI researchers will study the process by which youth are committed, and explore who is and is not committed to DYRS and to alternative placements, and how these have changed over time. DCPI will also attempt to assess the effects of the various placements on youth outcomes.

Project Start Date: October, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

Increasing Cross-Jurisdictional Collaboration to Reduce Crime in the District

Principal Investigators: Meagan Cahill and Martha Ross

Crime does not stop at jurisdictional boundaries, and in the District of Columbia, crime rates are high on the city’s eastern edge, and in bordering Prince George’s County. These borders are porous: family connections and social, business and criminal networks link people on both sides.  Residents of one jurisdiction sometimes commit crime in the other, and the boundary is also used to escape arrest because the ability of the police departments to act across boundaries is limited. The District, Maryland and Prince George’s County have engaged in cross-jurisdictional efforts.  But it is not clear these efforts have been embedded into ongoing operations or if the initiatives ebb and flow with administration priorities and funding streams.  Nor is it clear that cross-jurisdictional efforts have been informed by research of promising and best practices from other areas or from a serious analysis of how criminal activity crosses the DC border into surrounding areas to inform a tailored response.

DCPI researchers will analyze detailed crime data to assess the cross-jurisdictional criminal activity between the District and Maryland jurisdictions, and review the quantity and quality of current cross-jurisdictional cooperation and response between the District and bordering jurisdictions. Results will inform recommendations for best practices to improve the efficiency and efficacy of cross-jurisdictional cooperation and response.

Project Start Date: October, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

Delinquent Behavior, Gang Involvement, and Social Networks of Youths in the District of Columbia

Principal Investigators: Meagan Cahill and Caterina Roman (Temple University)

Since the mid-1980s, gang violence has become a deadly national problem, especially in high-density multi-cultural urban and suburban areas. Most recent research on gang violence has concerned gangs with structure and organization, and most current anti-gang strategies have been based on the behaviors of organized gangs. Gangs in Washington, D.C. tend to be more loosely structured, neighborhood-based groups of youths who grew up together; these groups are commonly known as “crews.” While these groups contribute disproportionately to violent crime and fear of crime in the District, they are often excluded from research studies because they do not meet common definitions of gang members. These “crews” may also not respond as well to gang intervention and prevention practices designed for more organized gangs.

DCPI researchers will study the DC gang problem by collecting and analyzing data concerning social networks from a neighborhood-based sample of youth in the District, in order to understand the progression of individual and group-based criminal behavior. Findings concerning on the local D.C. gang context and how it functions within neighborhoods will assist policymakers, law enforcement, and community practitioners in developing locally appropriate prevention and intervention efforts.

Project Start Date: October, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2011

Do DC Mail Carriers Deter Crime?

Principal Investigators: John K. Roman and Samantha Lowry

This study will examine the role of mail carriers and post offices on crime and disorder by studying how changes to postal services in the District of Columbia affect community security and public safety. In a recent Urban Institute report documenting the social benefits the U.S. Postal Service provides, postal services were identified as a way to improve neighborhood safety by serving as an informal social control, increasing guardianship in the community, and thus increasing the chance to detect new crimes (Pindus et al. 2010). Through these mechanisms, postal carriers and post offices may reduce crime. In this study, we hypothesize that mail carriers may deter offending, detect suspicious or unusual behavior, and provide social benefits by identifying and assisting ill residents or crime victims.

Funded by the Postal Regulatory Commission

Project Start Date: September, 2010

Expected Completion Date: March, 2011


FY2010 Projects 

Mayor's Focused Improvement Area Initiative

Principal Investigators: John K. Roman and Jocelyn Fontaine

In November 2007, the District of Columbia mayor launched the Focused Improvement Areas (FIA) Initiative. Directed to seven of the city’s most at-risk neighborhoods, the FIA Initiative aims to increase law enforcement presence and access to social services to improve public safety and reduce disorder. We propose two activities to inform FIA efforts: DCPI will recommend modifications to the FIA activities based on evidence-based best practices, and DCPI will develop models that identify areas likely to benefit most from becoming FIA neighborhoods.

Proposed modifications will be developed from existing research on promising and proven place-based approaches to public safety and community well-being. We are developing a flexible model rather than a single, monolithic program. This data-driven enterprise will work as a stand-alone intervention as well as an intervention that can be combined with other initiatives, depending on the factors producing violence in the neighborhoods. The modules will be developed from a review of similar interventions, including, but not be limited to, focused deterrence/pulling levers, Blueprints models for violence reduction/prevention, problem-oriented and hot spots policing, community-oriented policing, community mobilization and generating collective efficacy, public health–based models for violence interruption, youth development and school-based programming, and family-based interventions.

Project Start Date: March, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2010

Promising Practices of the Metropolitan Police Department

Principal Investigators: Nancy G. La Vigne and Jocelyn Fontaine

The District of Columbia has experienced a significant drop in violent crime in recent years—particularly homicides. During this time, the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has made various changes in policies and operations that are hypothesized to have contributed to the decline in violent crime. These strategies have built on empirical evidence drawn from other places, analysis of District crime statistics and trends, or have been developed as an ad hoc response to critical incidents. To date, the association between changes in policies and operations and changes in crime patterns across places and times has not been studied. As a result, the association between these policy changes and the violent crime decline has not been studied. Thus, there is limited empirical evidence to evaluate whether these changes should be continued or reconsidered.

Thus, the goal of this project is two-fold: (1) to conduct a qualitative review of changes in MPD policy and operations over the past few years to develop a narrative that relates changes in offending patterns to declines in violent crime in D.C., and (2) to determine whether an empirical analysis of the association between observed changes in MPD operations and short- and long-term changes in criminal offending is possible with current data. This analysis should inform future tactical, programmatic, and financial decisions.

Project Final Report

Project Start Date: March, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2010

Understanding the Impact of Pretrial Detention on Defendants and its Implications for Evidence-based Practice

Principal Investigators: KiDeuk Kim and John K. Roman

Pretrial detention balances two objectives: protecting the community from defendants who may be dangerous if released and ensuring defendants appear in court. These objectives are balanced against the competing need to protect the presumption of innocence and otherwise protect the rights of the pretrial population. Over time, pretrial detention policies in the District have evolved to become among the most progressive in the country, with some of the strongest restrictions against pretrial detention. Given these policies and the public safety interests, there is considerable interest in empirical evidence about the impact of pretrial detention on the defendant, the criminal justice system, and the defendant’s community. The current work will contribute to the discussion surrounding pretrial detention through a comparative study of pretrial detention periods to determine the impact of different types of supervision on defendant outcomes.

The goal of this project is to improve understanding of the effect of pretrial detention on pretrial detainees and public safety in Washington, D.C., with a corollary goal of determining the types of individuals for whom detention would be best from a social harm perspective. This project aims to provide a baseline overview of pretrial detention in the District of Columbia, including estimates of rates of release from detention before trial, types of pretrial defendants assigned to each type of supervision or detention, outcomes for detainees in each supervision category, and the general impact of pretrial detention on crime and well-being in Washington, D.C.

The project will be threefold. First, the research team will review relevant literature and current approaches in pretrial detention to derive a comparative understanding of pretrial practices and outcomes in D.C. Second, the project will conduct a descriptive analysis to examine the characteristics of pretrial defendants and the use of pretrial detention and supervision. Third, the research team will then develop a quasi-experimental evaluation to assess the impact of pretrial detention and to identify for whom pretrial detention works best. Hazard models and trend analysis will be used to examine post-release outcomes of subgroups in the various detention regimes.

Project Start Date: March, 2010

Expected Completion Date: September, 2010