Students Take a “Byte” Out of Crime

Students Take a “Byte” Out of Crime

ralston crime analyticsA generous donation from the Jeffrey R. Ralston Foundation is giving four criminology majors a one-of-a-kind research opportunity this semester. The $25,000 gift established a pilot program in crime analytics that allows the students to conduct statistical and geospatial analyses of data provided by a local police department.

Working closely with faculty mentors, the students are sifting through Lawrence Township Police Department data on traffic stops, response times to calls for service, distribution of crimes, and force workload, explained David Holleran ’95, chair of the criminology department. Details of the program were still being finalized at press time, but Holleran envisioned the end result would be to provide Lawrence Police with a descriptive assessment of its own data. In addition to the statistical analyses, various mapping techniques will assist in showing “what [crimes are] happening in certain patrol sectors or parts of the township.” The students’ analyses could help police determine “what factors correlate, for example, with the probability of stopping a particular vehicle, issuing a citation during a stop, and/or making an arrest during a stop,” Holleran said.

“There are many different ways that various data points can be linked and presented graphically” to the police, Holleran explained. “The analytical protocol will emerge as we continue to work through and understand the data. The students taking part in this project will begin by working with the rudimentary analyses and methods covered in elementary statistics and research methods. Eventually, the students will assist the faculty in applying more advanced analyses to the data including, for example, various extensions of the general linear model in univariate and bivariate frameworks, probability modeling, and data mining and predictive modeling.”

Kelly Ann Brennan ’12, Amanda Emmert ’11, Bryan Furman ’12, and Christopher Skinner ’10 were selected to take part in the program following an application process governed by the criminology faculty. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for them,” Holleran said. “They are getting intensive, hands-on, applied analytical training with real data, beyond what they can get in the classroom.”

The four Jeffrey R. Ralston Foundation Fellows, as the students are called, were selected based on academic performance as well as an essay each wrote detailing how the opportunity fits within their academic and career goals, Holleran said. Due to the sensitive data with which they are working, each fellow also had to undergo a criminal background check as well.

At the conclusion of the semester, the fellows will present their findings to the Lawrence Police chief and his captains. The students must also submit manuscripts to the Jeffrey R. Ralston Foundation Trustees detailing their experiences, and will eventually present their work at an annual conference, Holleran said.

Lawrence Police Chief Daniel Posluszny said that while his department does complete statistical analysis of crimes and calls for service in the township, it is not to the extent that TCNJ’s team is doing. His department also cannot complete geospatial analyses due to funding issues, he said.

“The benefits of [this partnership] are the analysis of trends in all facets of the department in order to more efficiently utilize personnel and resources,” Posluszny explained.

Although the Crime Analytics Program is currently only working with Lawrence Police, Holleran hoped that future funding would make it possible to offer additional fellowships to qualified students, thus creating more partnership opportunities with other local police departments.

The Jeffrey R. Ralston Foundation was established by the late Betsy Ross Brooks ’49 in memory of her son, Jeffrey R. Ralston, a law enforcement officer in Monmouth County, NJ, who died in 1997 at age 34. The foundation exists solely to provide assistance to criminology students who demonstrate both academic promise and financial need.

In addition to supporting the four students in the Crime Analytics Program, the foundation has for many years provided assistance to other criminology majors through its Jeffrey R. Ralston Scholarship program. Currently, 13 TCNJ criminology students receive financial assistance through the Scholarship program.

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