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Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology Doctoral Level Graduate Research Assistantship for Public Safety

Doctoral Level Graduate Research Assistantship for Public Safety

Research shows that suburban and rural criminal justice agencies are under researched, staffed, and resourced. These agencies have considerable data that is under used because of issues in staffing, expertise, and time. In response, the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, working with local public safety agencies, created two (2) 3-year Graduate Research Assistantships with the City of Pullman and the City Pasco. This unique program is a collaboration between the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, the Graduate School, and the Cities of Pullman and Pasco. The purpose of these positions is to support each agency through data management and analysis, and to position them for success when they seek external funding.

The Graduate Research Assistants work independently, under the supervision of the Complex Social Interactions Laboratory Director. Each GRA coordinates activities with their respective police department (either Pullman or Pasco) and other stakeholders, including database design, management, and analysis of agency data; development of protocols for new data collection processes; report writing; identifying relevant funding opportunities; grant writing; and providing supervision and guidance to undergraduate researcher assistants working in the Complex Social Interactions Lab. Each GRA co-manages the CSI lab.

Fellowship Reflection

Megan Parks smiling
Megan Parks, Inaugural Recipient of the Research for Public Safety Fellowship/Lab Manager, Complex Social Interactions Lab from Fall 2019 to Spring 2022

The Research for Public Safety Fellowship and the knowledge I have gained through my involvement with the Pullman Police Department is extremely unique and will undoubtedly serve as a benefit when I transition into my career. The practical experiences gained have clarified the type of career I will pursue and have shaped my trajectory as a researcher immensely. I have learned soft and hard skills throughout the process. The direct work conducted allow me to communicate with practitioners across different fields in criminal justice and it has allowed me to contribute to efforts producing positive changes in the field and within the Pullman Police Department. I was able to shadow an evaluation consultant, as the city considered the development of a municipal court. Through this process, I learned how to conduct a thorough evaluation and even more about the importance of incorporating qualitative elements in my research. I have been fortunate to aid the Pullman Police Department in other projects including an evaluation of the suitability of red-light camera systems, a research brief on best practices in responding to domestic violence, and the development of a police-contact survey in collaboration with the Police Advisory Committee. Deploying a contact survey is a costly expenditure for departments, and by way of the fellowship, the Pullman Police Department will be able to collect this important data on police and community interactions with minimal costs – that is the costs of printing new business cards.

I have been the manager of the Complex Social Interactions (CSI) Lab for the last three years. In this position, I have learned how to manage projects, from developing research questions that matter to the agency, to figuring out proper and effective data collection methods to answer pressing questions to the agency. The research conducted in the CSI Lab helps the agency in better understanding use of force, de-escalation, and professionalism. The Pullman Police Department is among the first agencies in the nation to integrate the analysis of body-worn camera footage into risk management and training processes. I manage 25 students each semester and my skills as a leader and a teacher have improved greatly. This position and the work we have conducted with Pullman Police Department has helped me understand the current challenges facing policing. Most importantly, and a benefit that only a fellowship of this sort can offer, is that I have learned about the experiences of officers and how research findings can be effectively translated into the working day-to-day operations of a police department. Recently, through assisting with the writing of COPS Office LEMHWA Grant, I learned about the grant application process, as well as the process of accepting and carrying out a federal grant in a department. My gained experience in grant writing and evaluation while working closely with the Pullman Police Department is the type of work many PhD students strongly want, though are seldom able to acquire in their years of study.

The fellowship position has allowed for a beneficial researcher-agency relationship to form between myself, Dr. Makin, and the Pullman Police Department. This type of partnership is invaluable, as it has allowed the opportunity to address the disconnect that we often see between academia and practitioners. Often this is not something graduate students are able to experience and learn until they are working in the field. Frequently and prominent as of lately, there is a concern among police that researchers may seek out opportunities to portray the law enforcement profession in a negative light. I believe being able to highlight the experiences of officers in my research is more important than ever. The partnership this fellowship has created allows for such
an in-depth approach to practical research to occur. The fellowship supplies the police department the ability to embed research in their practices and processes. This is a benefit not only for the research fellow, but it
aligns with Pullman Police Department’s vision to be a leading agency in the law enforcement profession. A desire to incorporate research into their processes is what makes Pullman Police Department the effective, progressive, and respectable department that it is. The Research for Public Safety Fellowship only aids in furthering this vision all while providing the most beneficial and practical experience a criminal justice PhD student could ask for.


For more information contact:
David Makin, CSI Laboratory Director and Associate Professor
Wilson-Short, 117

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