We met with Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle to discuss drug crime studies, crime hotspots, ways to counter crime, and much more. Enjoy!
Noted criminologist Dr. Lorraine Green Mazerolle recalls her entry into criminal justice through her street-level drug crime studies. She explores recent studies of crime-control partnerships in crime hotspots, analyzes co-responder models, and focuses on how local relationships and the legitimacy of police can work to counter crime. Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Criminology and professor at the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, Dr. Mazerolle talks with Dr. Jed Macosko, academic director of AcademicInfluence.com and professor of physics at Wake Forest University.
So when the police go in and that they work with the local community and people in the hot spots, they can only do that for a certain period of time. But to really have long-term gains and crime control in these areas, they need to foster these partnerships with the businesses, with the schools, with other entities to bring about a long-term gains in these places.” – Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle
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(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Jed Macosko: Hi, I’m Dr. Jed Macosko at AcademicInfluence.com in Wake Forest University. And today, coming all the way from Australia is Professor Lorraine Mazerolle, who does criminology.
So I wanted to ask you, Professor Mazerolle, had you spend any time in the United States and looked at our system of criminology and the crime and relationship with professors to crime in the United States?
Lorraine Mazerolle: Yes, I have. So when I was 25-years-old, two incredibly famous criminologists, Ron Clarke and David H. Bayley . Ron Clarke won the Stockholm Prize in Criminology. They were both in Australia, in the northern summer doing a visiting fellowship, and both of them invited me to go to the United States and invited me to do my PhD. David Bayley at the time was at SUNY Albany, State University in New York, and Ron Clarke was at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Now, I had offers to go to both, but Ron Clarke said that if I came to Rutgers, I would be given an office and in that office, I’d be able to see the Statue of Liberty. So as a 25-year-old, that was pretty much my decision-making that I’d go to Rutgers. And out of my 13th floor office, I was able to literally just see the top of the flame of the Statue of Liberty, but that was my beacon and my rationale for arriving in New Jersey.
Jed: And what kinds of things did you learn about in the United States and how has that affected you in your career?
Lorraine: Yeah, look, I was incredibly influenced by my PhD supervisor, David Weisburd , who is actually on your top 10 academic influencers in criminology. And David Weisburd and I ran a randomized controlled trial on street-level drug law enforcement.
And it was one of the very first experiments where academics worked in partnership with police to look at different ways that they could transform the way that they were doing their policies and practices.
So that was my entry point into really understanding the machinations of how police worked and what was working and what really was not working and what needed to be changed at the time.
Jed: So what did you find back then that was working and not working and how did you figure it out?
Lorraine: Yeah, so that was a real ground-breaking experiment because it really tested the ideas of crime being clustered in places.
I think that's really at the core of this is the way that the police engage with people in… very high-crime places in fair and just ways.” – Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle
So at the time, the idea that just 3% of the places were generating 50 and 60% of the problems was a real new idea. And so what we did was to really focus the police in the places and at the times that they... When the crimes were occurring and really looking at more efficient ways and fair ways. And I think that’s really at the core of this is the way that the police engage with people in places, in very high-crime places in fair and just ways.
Jed: That’s fascinating. We had heard earlier from Richard Rosenfeld about these hot spots.
So is it that that you were looking at that there are hot spots of crime?
Lorraine: Yes, and we were looking at hot spots of drug crimes. So at the time, it was 1990, so this was right at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. And so these were really, really dangerous places. And being able to reduce crime and disorder in these very, very violent places was bringing about better amenity for all of those people living in and around these hot spots.
Jed: And Professor Rosenfeld said that going into a hot spot with a greater proportion of your police force until it sort of mitigated the problems there was like using a scalpel to deal with crime versus a stop-and-frisk policy that we heard about in the recent run with Mike Bloomberg. That’s more of using a club and it doesn’t work as well, is what he was saying.
Would you agree?
Lorraine: Yes. Oh, absolutely. And we found that... So in my area, and my contribution to this whole idea is that the police can’t do it alone. They can go in there and they can suppress the problem in the initial stages, but this was called a decay effect.
So the police need crime control partners, they need to co-produce the gains that they make. So when the police go in and that they work with the local community and people in the hot spots, they can only do that for a certain period of time. But to really have long-term gains and crime control in these areas, they need to foster these partnerships with the businesses, with the schools, with other entities to bring about a long-term gains in these places.
Jed: That seems so important. Now, it reminds me of another idea I’ve heard. Not just partnering with the people who live in the community, near the hot spot or in the hot spot, but what about police partnering with someone who had come alongside of them in their interaction with these hot spots as trained as a social worker?
So for example, with the George Floyd incident, I come from Minneapolis myself, so all of my relatives and friends were back there, and it just seemed like that situation would have been diffused if there had been a person coming alongside of the police who is trained in social work.
Have you heard about that or studied that?
Lorraine: Yeah, these are called co-responder models. And the co-responder models, I think are very underresearched. We don’t know a huge amount about them. My area is a little bit different in terms of those partnerships and I think you need both, I think that the co-responder models, they are very expensive and they do require a lot of what we would call top-down coordination between two different agencies.
So if you have a co-responder model that’s between youth justice and police or co-responder between health and the police, they really require a lot of top-down organization and long-term financial commitment.
A lot of the work that I do is looking at partnerships that are much more ground-level, bubbling up, where the police know the local and the businesses, and that they form a partnership with the local businesses or the bar owners, for example, or where they form lasting partnerships with the local schools. And these are much more localized and require a tremendous amount of synergy being built at a very localized level to deal with the problems.
So I think that both models have a really important place too in the future of how we go about better crime control and prevention in our communities.
Jed: That’s interesting. And I could see how these co-responders would be pretty expensive to maintain for an entire city, and I could see how even in the George Floyd case, that if the police had built up good relations with the store owner that called the police in that incident, maybe somehow that could have been avoided. I don’t know, what do you think?
Those real core principles of what we call procedural justice policing need to be infused in every single aspect of police operations.” – Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle
Lorraine: Yeah. Well, look, I do think that those partnerships, which is what I study, are so very, very important. The other component is the legitimacy of police and this is a huge area in our field. Is it the way that the police convey their trustworthy motives, the way they treat people with dignity and respect, the way that they give voice to the people that they encounter? Those real core principles of what we call procedural justice policing need to be infused in every single aspect of police operations. And what we find is that a lot of the smaller police agencies, for example, don’t have the resources for good training. How you recruit police into policing and how you train them to really fundamentally understand those principles of procedural justice policing is very important.
Jed: It sounds like procedural justice is sort of the police equivalent of customer satisfaction. And I know that some companies were terrible at customer satisfaction and then they had to kind of reinvent themselves to meet the customers needs and things really improved for those commercial companies.
Do you think the same can happen for the police force?
Lorraine: I think there needs to be a fundamental change. And there’s the President’s task force, for example, President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing, I think laid out some really important frameworks for reform of policing, and those ideas have really permeated not just in the United States, but across the world. So we’re very aware of that, for example, in Australia. I know it’s fundamental to reforms in policing in the UK and other countries as well.
Jed: Where else do you see the same dynamic that’s in the United States, where there’s a lot of mistrust in certain ethnic communities of the police, and there seems to be definitely some unfairness and inequities of the police force as a whole towards certain races? Do you see that elsewhere in the world besides the United States?
Lorraine: Yes, and of course, we have a large indigenous Pacific Islander communities, we have one of the highest rates of immigration in the world, so these are fundamental problems.
I think that... I think right now in the United States, the combination of distrust along with the lack of gun control creates a really, really unique set of circumstances that I think are particularly negative, whereas it’s a very different dynamic here in Australia and New Zealand, our gun control is so much more stringent.
Jed: Do you think for the United States, just to give us some advice, should we pursue both reforms in the police department to build trust and gun control? Or...
Lorraine: That’s such a controversial issue, I really can’t walk into that one.
Jed: Yeah, okay, don’t walk into that one.
Lorraine: I’ve spent enough time in the United States to know that that’s a really controversial issue.
Jed: We definitely need some reform of our interaction of police with the community, and it sounds like you have a lot of experience in that, and there’s obviously people who are studying it in the United States.
Do you partner with them to study in the United States or does all your research happen in Queensland and thereabout?
Lorraine: No, I think I was so incredibly lucky to have, really by accident, landed in the United States and on the East Coast in the early ’90s and spent 10 years in the United States working as an academic. And that really provided me with... I have lifelong friends and colleagues in the United States, so we actually have... I still have grants with colleagues running randomized controlled trials.
We’ve got one looking at drug dealing in hotel rooms, for example, and that’s all about partnerships, again because hotel rooms and hoteliers are the partners of police. And if hotel rooms are being used as comfort zones for people to distribute drugs, manufacture and distribute drugs, then this is a way to partner with the hoteliers in a really procedurally just way, is again, is to engage them as guardians to help bring about better crime control and prevention.
Jed: That’s wonderful. I really hope you’re successful in all the different things that you’re doing. We have interviewed a lot of political scientists and it strikes me that a criminology professor is to the police force, as a political science professor is to our government, and we need really smart people in these types of professorial roles. So I’m so glad that you are one of them.
Lorraine: Well, thank you very, very much for the opportunity to participate in this.
Jed: You’re welcome. Thank you for taking some time with us.