Many benefits from the last decade’s dramatic crime drops are at risk because federally backed anticrime research is being cut, says criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman of the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that the current federal budget marks a 35-year low in aid for research into ways police can prevent crime. The National Institute of Justice budget for social science research, once $15 million annually, was cut this year to $5 million.
“Social science has helped police focus on high-risk places and high-risk times as the key strategy for crime prevention,” Sherman told a meeting in Washington, D.C., of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which he heads. At the session, the academy issued a 200-page publication on improving police practices.
Sherman proposed that Congress spend $1 each year per American to create research centers on the police in every state and every major city. Such a plan could fund centers in 87 places–the 67 cities with populations more than 250.000 and the 20 states with no cities that large. Sherman used as a model Kansas City, whose police department between 1971 and 1995 took part in large-scale research funded by the federal government and foundations and became the model of a “research police department.”
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said at the conference that policing research “has provided critical information on what works to impact crime and disorder and has helped ensure that police departments do not waste shrinking local resources on ill-advised approaches.”
Some federal anticrime funds have been shifted to antiterrorism programs. Sherman noted that despite the drop in crime, more than 15,000 people were murdered last year in the United States, far more than the toll taken by terrorism.
Earlier at the conference, Sarah Hart, the justice institute’s director, urged a greater involvement of economists in helping determine if particular anticrime programs are cost-effective. “If program A is incredibly expensive, it may be that program B is a better policy choice,” Hart said.