Skip to content

Graduate Research Assistant

An inter-disciplinary and multi-generational team of scholars from Economics, Public Policy, and Criminal Justice seeks one SGA to join an ongoing project focused on disparities in criminal investigations. We expect to convene a group consisting of three faculty leads, two PhD research assistants (including this position), two MS research assistants, and three to five undergraduate research assistants. The position will provide the opportunity to learn valuable skills in collecting and working with administrative data on police enforcement and criminal investigations. The position will also provide an opportunity to engage with criminal justice agencies from across the country. A key role of the position will be to assist the faculty leads in supervising and mentoring the undergraduate research assistants. Although quantitative analytical skills are preferred, they are not required. The ideal candidate will have a passion for research related to addressing chronic and persistent disparities in the criminal justice system.

  • Applications have closed, this listing has expired.
  • Project Title

    Interdisciplinary Multi-Generational Research Lab on Criminal Investigations

  • Faculty / Project Lead

    Matthew B. Ross (PPUA and Economics) and Ermus St. Louis (Criminology)

  • Project Description

    Statement of the Problem: Over the past decade, police reform has become a politically charged issue with growing calls for new approaches. Most Americans (94 percent) believe that policing needs reform (Gallup 2020). Approximately two-thirds (66 percent) believe police treat racial and ethnic groups differently (Gallup 2020). Many of advocates for police reform have focused on the over-policing of communities of color and made efforts to reduce the number of traffic stops for non-moving violations, misdemeanor arrests, and use of force. However, there has been considerably less attention to the under-policing of these same communities when it comes to investigatory resources for a variety of crimes including theft, homicide, assault, and domestic violence. While scholarly research in terms of how to reduce disparities in over-policing, there is shockingly little evidence on under-policing or criminal investigations in general. Prince et al. (2021) examine a total of 80 studies of police criminal investigations and conclude that “evaluation research examining the effectiveness of various investigative activities is rare.” Beyond the simple lack of research in this area, the other major problem with the existing literature is that none of these studies provide any evidence of quasi-random assignment between cases/victims and investigators. As an illustration of why quasi-random assignment is so critical, consider the canonical 1970’s RAND studies (see Chaiken, 1975; Chaiken et al., 1977; Greenwood and Petersilia, 1975; Greenwood et al., 1975) which find little evidence that an investigator’s experience or effort on a case have a substantive impact on the likelihood that an investigation is ultimately solved. In many settings where researchers haven’t provided institutional and empirical evidence of quasi-random assignment, it seems possible that the most difficult cases are more likely to be assigned to the most experienced and hardworking detectives. Similar issues of endogenous selection also confound questions pertaining to the interaction of victim and investigator race/ethnicity and gender. For instance, it is unclear whether cases involving crimes like domestic violence or sexual assault are more likely to lead to a positive outcome if they are assigned to a female detective. More germane to the discussion of police reform and improving the equity of public safety services, another deficit of the existing literature is that none of these studies have focused on improving case clearance rates in historically underserved communities of color. The literature has documented persistent racial/ethnic disparities in terms of over-enforcement of things like traffic enforcement, arrests, searches, and use of force. However, there isn’t a single empirical research study examining how these types of over-enforcement might impact the cooperation of suspects and victims during criminal investigations. For instance, it seems possible that communities of color are less likely to cooperate with police during a criminal investigation if they have recently experienced a high-profile incident of force or a misdemeanor the arrest of a friend/relative. Efforts to reform policing would be in a substantially better position to make effective change if they had more rigorous information about the causal linkages between the over-provision of more punitive forms of policing and the persistently under-provision of public safety services like criminal investigation. Impact and Scope of Work: The proposed initiative will undertake efforts to make several key contributions to the national conversation on policing reform and engage policing agencies from across the country. First, the research team will continue to request data from a large number of policing agencies across the country with a particular focused on criminal investigations data that can be linked to arrests, force incidents, victim/suspect/witness demographics, officer demographics, calls for service, and traffic stops. Second, the research team will document the likelihood of different types of criminal investigations to result in an arrest or criminal conviction across a large number of US cities. Third, these data will establish a broad set of stylized facts about the extend of racial and ethnic disparities in the likelihood of a criminal investigation to result in a successful outcome. Fourth, these data will allow the research team to rigorously and scientifically examine the determinants of a successful criminal investigation. Fifth, these data will allow the research team to explore the critical question of how over-enforcement in terms of traffic stops and arrest/force interact with chronically low clearance rates in communities of color.

  • Qualifications Necessary

    The SGA will work with the core faculty on specific empirical research. The ideal candidate will have a background in either criminal justice and criminology as well as some quantitative analytical skills from data science, economics, or public policy. Preference will be given to candidates with a background in criminal justice and criminology even w/o analytical skills. However, candidates with strong quantitative skills and an interest in issues related to the criminal justice system will also be considered are encouraged to apply. The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented and passionate about research that addresses disparities in policing and the criminal justice system. The ideal candidate will be expected to: • Attend weekly lab meetings w/ several other MS and PhD students as well as a group of undergraduate research assistants. • Provide mentorship and leadership to a group of undergraduate research assistants and supervise the collection of criminal investigation records from a large number of policing agencies. • Lead group presentations that either summarizing the relevant criminal justice and criminology literature for the undergraduate research assistants or provide training in quantitative analytical methods. • Work with the faculty investigators to analyze administrative data and learn to apply various econometric models and analytical techniques. • Attend meetings with law enforcement agencies, take detailed notes, and help to prepare relevant questions. • Be prepared to assist with manuscript preparation including analysis and literature review in a coauthorship capacity.