The new Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform at the University of Mississippi — the only one of its kind in Mississippi and one of a few in the nation — was created to build relationships and share research data with policing agencies and enhance the preparation of Ole Miss undergraduate and graduate students in criminal justice. Current tragic events and strained relations between police and communities point to the need for evidence-based reform.
Likewise, according to an NPR report, police workplace morale has suffered and some officers are choosing to retire or resign: “A June survey of nearly 200 departments by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit think tank, shows a startling 45% increase in the retirement rate and a nearly 20% increase in resignations in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.” This comes as shooting and murder rates increase.
Actor Morgan Freeman and criminal justice and legal studies professor Linda Keena want to make a positive impact on this challenge. By providing a 2021 gift of $1 million as seed money for the Center, they put the University on the path to becoming a pioneer in the field for evidence-based policing.
“The sole agenda in launching this Center is to be a resource through science and data vital to police and other law enforcement officials,” said Wesley G. Jennings, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies and director of the Center, recognized as the No. 1 criminologist in the world by the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.
The Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, which is part of UM’s School of Applied Sciences, established primary goals including:
- Conduct cutting-edge research for the evidence-based policing strategies, policies and practices.
- Provide training for police and other law enforcement in Mississippi and, as the center grows, around the country.
- Use evidence-based practices that allow police officers to be more proactive as well as identify other realistic solutions.
- Focus training on how police can better engage the community in crime prevention versus being largely reactive, addressing how to improve the community members’ perceptions of the police, trust and confidence in police, and willingness to call the police in a time of need.
- Further develop curriculum around evidence-based policing to infuse into the department’s undergraduate and graduate programs.
Already, the Center is developing the curriculum for a graduate certificate on evidence-based policing, building networks and connections in the law enforcement community, supporting community-engaged research and brainstorming ideas with members of the School of Applied Sciences Advisory Board around the “grand challenge” of evidence-based policing.
Private support is being sought for faculty, scholarships, fellowships, travel funds and more.
Jennings, the former editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Criminal Justice and current editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Criminology, said the flagship university has a responsibility to be a conduit for change.
“Interest exists on all sides — police, citizens and policymakers — to see an infusion of evidence-based practices into policing. While police relations with certain segments of the community have historically been tenuous and strained at times, the source of this mistrust and fear has never been more nationally and internationally recognized. It will take all of us working together to find solutions to this challenge,” Jennings said.
“It is important to understand that the goals of this Center certainly cannot be realized overnight but will happen as a result of a collective, focused and evidence-based approach and commitment,” the chair and director continued. “Success will occur when there is effective and genuine buy-in from all stakeholders, and one of my critical tasks will be to foster these relationships.”
To support this Center, contact Tyler McCraw at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-6386.