RWU Magazine - Fall 2013 / Issue #9 - page 18

RWU {Fall 2013}
16
Mission Critical
“Several clients were found to have mental
health issues as well as alcohol and drug use,
which are important because they offer a
benchmark of risk of the clients.”
The result of this guidance? Counseling for
those who needed it and work opportunities
for most.
And while the media portrays more
firearms than databases on crime shows,
computer work is proving tremendously
effective when it comes to crime prevention.
“On a regular basis, I update client criminal
history data, including arrests, police contacts
with clients and warrants, and work with
program staff to modify current data
collection measures or develop additional
data functions beneficial to program staff,”
Sarasin says.
He also does the unsung labor of fixing the
program databases, but Sarasin isn’t just a guy
behind a desk: “Because I have the ability to
be down in New Bedford a few times a week,
I am really able to see the vision of the HOPE
Collaborative and provide a street-level view.”
There, he says he can see the research
in action.
“For example,” Sarasin says, “we recom-
mended that the role of a case manager
should be expanded to include more direct
services and staff-client interaction. I’ve
already witnessed this year that the case
manager has been able to meet one-on-one
with clients on several occasions.”
Varano’s research efforts for New Bedford
extend beyond just gang-related crime,
including Operation Weed and Seed – a joint
federal, state and local coordinated law
enforcement and community initiative that
aims to prevent, control and reduce violent
crime, drug abuse and gang activity in
targeted high-crime neighborhoods across
the country.
So, can insight gleaned from research help
stem crime?
“Like all good researchers,” Varano says, he
doesn’t blithely assume any cause-and-effect
scenarios. “Crime, like many social
phenomena, has many causes.
“That said, our findings suggest that the
city of New Bedford has experienced
successes in recent years in their crime
reduction efforts.”
Targeted neighborhoods have experienced
substantial declines in serious crime, such as
aggravated assault and robbery, while the city
as a whole has experienced increases over the
same period, Varano says.
“This suggests that some of our inter-
ventions that are targeted to these known
trouble locations may in fact be successful in
reducing serious violent crime commonly
associated with gangs.”
—Elaine Beebe
W
hen
a
city
is
facing
a gang
violence
crisis
,
computers and academics aren’t exactly the
first solutions that spring to mind.
Still, Associate Professor of Criminal
Justice Sean Varano and graduate student
Ryan Sarasin have been instrumental in aiding
the city of New Bedford, Mass., in its effort to
reduce gang-related crime. Varano has long
served as a consultant for the Massachusetts
Department of Public Safety as a “big picture
thinker.” For the past five years, he has worked
in tandem with New Bedford’s HOPE
(Healthy Opportunities for Peaceful
Engagement) Collaborative, a network of
community organizations, law enforcement,
faith-based agencies, service agencies and
community members.
According to a recent report, HOPE’s
goal is to reduce levels of serious violence in
the most at-risk neighborhoods by earmarking
adolescents at risk for gang involvement and
serious delinquency. Youth with moderate-to-
high levels of risk for gang membership are
in early adolescence (ages 12 to 15); live in
high-crime, gang-prone neighborhoods; and
exhibit other risk factors such as serious school
problems, alcohol and/or drug abuse and
involvement with the juvenile court system.
A criminal justice researcher whose
expertise varies from post-Hurricane
Katrina crime rates to the effects of lunar
cycles on crime sprees, Varano provides
the collaborative with up-to-date research
on youth violence prevention efforts and
helps design programs, which he calls “a bit
of a moving target” due to efficacy and the
intermittence of funding. In addition, he
teaches program staff how to collect data
that show whether their efforts are effective,
and how to assess program clients for risk
assessment.
“Sean and I found that the majority of
clients in the program did in fact have
identified gang involvement,” says Sarasin,
the on-site research assistant that Varano
hand-picked to help with this project.
HOPE for Peaceful Communities via
Collaborative Criminal Justice Research
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