A monthly update of the Center's work in school safety, violence prevention, juvenile and criminal justice, public health, and prevention.
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Fall 2018 Update, Part I

The Justice & Prevention Research Center (JPRC) newsletter, just for this issue, is broken into two parts. We begin with a blog article From the JPRC Director's Desk, which reflects on the early years of the director’s 35-year professional journey. We then highlight new projects from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, and an update on the Nevada Governor’s Task Force on School Safety. Several of our teammates were recognized with prestigious awards or newly conferred graduate degrees and we put the spotlight on those. We conclude by introducing two new colleagues. The second part, to be distributed next week, highlights our events, presentations and publications.


The twists and turns in a professional career: A cop wannabe

Lately, I’ve been reflecting more often about my career. One reason is that junior colleagues, particularly those in graduate school, have been asking me for advice about their own career paths. They want to know what it is like working at a place like WestEd (see pp. 33-37 of this newsletter) and how I ended up here. In my youth, I never imagine pursuing a career that would use the tools of knowledge and understanding to improve justice and prevention. Instead, I sought to fight crime more directly. I was attracted to police work mainly due to a family legacy stretching back generations. My grandfather’s uncle was Detective Joseph Petrosino, who was the first Italian-American to make it to Lieutenant in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and remains the only NYPD officer murdered overseas in the line of duty. He fought the early configurations of the Mafia, known in the late 1800s as the “Black Hand,” and he is credited with many innovations in the NYPD, including the first bomb squad. Detective Petrosino’s accomplishments were lauded by former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, in his speech on organized crime. There was a 1960 Hollywood movie about his life, Pay or Die, starring Ernest Borgnine, and more recently Leonardo DiCaprio was enlisted to play Detective Petrosino in The Black Hand, scheduled for release in 2019.

Joseph Petrosino wasn’t the only family member to influence my thinking. My grandfather, Prospero, was an accomplished NYPD detective in his own right, solving many well-publicized crimes. Like his uncle, his crime fighting made him a target of the Mafia, and the New York dailies covered an attempt on his life in which his apartment was machine-gunned. His brother, James, was also an accomplished NYPD Detective, most recognized for his role in the “Crime of the Century” in the early 1930s. The young son of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped from his bedroom and later found dead, after ransom money (marked bills) had been given to the kidnapper. Detective James Petrosino was one of the detectives who traced the ransom bills to Bruno Richard Hauptman’s garage in the Bronx, New York. Hauptman was eventually executed for the kidnapping and murder. On my mother’s side, an uncle was an undercover narcotics officer in the NYPD and was someone we all looked up to.

My first “law enforcement” position (in 1982) was as a detective at Bamberger’s Department Store at a mall in New Jersey. The store initially offered $4 per hour, but after I mentioned my college degree in criminal justice, the offer was upped to $4.10 per hour. It was shocking to learn my degree was worth only 10 cents per hour. But the job was rewarding, and I made arrests, testified in court, and learned much about employee theft as well as shoplifting by persons coming into the store. Nonetheless, it didn’t quite satisfy my desire to be a cop.

So, as I hit my 21st birthday, I began to take the local police exams. I felt prepared for the physical exams and the written tests, but I forgot one very important requirement. Back then (early 1980s), many departments had strict thresholds for uncorrected vision, usually 20/40 or even 20/30. My vision without glasses was 20/70 on a good day. I failed every eye test, for both the local and state police exams.
I tried the federal agencies next. I was excited to take the exam for the Federal Bureau of Investigation because I could meet the vision requirement. Unfortunately for me, the exam at that time (1985) included showing an image of a bank robbery for about two minutes, after which applicants were asked detailed questions about the robbery. Questions included: What was the time on the clock? What was the teller wearing? I was so focused on the robber that I didn’t get any of those questions right. Another part of the exam involved squeezing the trigger of an unloaded gun as many times as possible in 60 seconds. None of my workouts had prepared me for how hard this task would be on my arm and trigger finger. Ultimately, I failed the FBI exam two years in a row, the maximum number of tries permitted at that time.

It was clear to me by the time I turned 25 that I was not going to be a cop. But what could satisfy that itch? In the next issue, I’ll talk about another twist in my career, one that eventually led me to graduate school to study criminal justice.


National evaluation of Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force training

The JPRC received an award from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to evaluate training provided to police investigators assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program (ICAC). ICAC coordinates a network of task forces that help state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide investigate and prosecute crimes involving children, particularly crimes of sexual exploitation. The JPRC, in collaboration with the Center for Cybercrime Investigation and Cybersecurity (CIC), will conduct a 4-year evaluation study to inform and refine this training moving forward.

National technical assistance center to improve social-emotional learning and school safety

WestEd received a U.S. Department of Education grant to lead a new effort, the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety. The RAND Corporation, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Transforming Education are partners in the Center’s efforts to expand the knowledge and capacity of educators and system leaders. The Center focuses on integrating evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) and school safety practices and programs with academic learning in order to promote success for every student in college, career, and beyond.


Anthony Petrosino wins Campbell Collaboration award

The Campbell Collaboration has several annual awards. The Robert Boruch Award for Distinctive Contributions Made to Public Policy recognizes and honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to research on social interventions that inform public policy in areas such as criminal justice, education, and social welfare. The award is named after influential evaluation scholar Robert F. Boruch, University Trustee Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior winners have included JPRC Advisers David Farrington and David Weisburd. Anthony Petrosino was announced as the 2018 recipient of the Boruch Award at the Global Evidence and Implementation Summit in Melbourne, Australia on October 25th. Anthony currently directs or co-directs a number of projects including studies funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Sean Darling-Hammond wins APPAM Poster Session Award

According to its website, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) " dedicated to improving public policy and management by fostering excellence in research, analysis, and education.” Each year, at its fall research conference, APPAM holds a poster session and selects three winners from each day of the presentations. Sean Darling-Hammond, a doctoral student at UC-Berkeley and a researcher in the Health & Justice Program at WestEd, was the first place winner during the poster session's first day with his submission entitled Making Intergroup Contact 'Work': Reducing Bias through Effective Workplace Diversity Programs.

Trevor Fronius Receives his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

JPRC Senior Researcher Trevor Fronius received his Ph.D. in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Dr. Fronius successfully defended his dissertation research, entitled “Social capital and community well-being: An examination of institutional social supports and neighborhood crime.” Trevor currently co-directs several projects including the JPRC's evaluation of the Connected Youth Initiative in Nebraska.

Hannah Persson receives her M.S. in Criminal Justice

JPRC researcher Hannah Persson received her M.S. degree in criminal justice with a concentration in criminology from Salem State University. Hannah currently works on several projects and was co-author of four reports from the Restorative Justice in Schools project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.



The Nevada Governor’s Task Force on School Safety concludes its work        

As mentioned in prior issues, JPRC Director Anthony Petrosino is serving as a non-voting resource to the Nevada Governor's Task Force on School Safety, supported by the West Comprehensive Center. The formation of the Task Force as well as its materials and meetings were covered by the May/June and July/August JPRC newsletters.

The Governor’s Executive Order creating the Task Force mandated that a final report be submitted to Governor Sandoval by November 30th. The Task Force fulfilled its mandate, presenting recommendations for strategies that can be implemented to improve school safety. The final report, as well as all meeting agendas and materials, can be found at the Nevada Governor's School Safety Task Force website.


Sarah Russo and Gary Zhang

Sarah Russo is a Research Assistant working out of the Los Alamitos, California office. Her initial projects will be to assist on the Healthy U teen pregnancy prevention study in Oregon and a school safety project on school policing led by Texas State University. Sarah received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. During her time there she was a Research Assistant in the Department of Evaluation in the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Sarah also served a year working in AmeriCorp. Most recently Sarah was a Data Analyst at the Youth Policy Institute where she facilitated and managed community data collection and analysis of focus group, survey, and police crime data for the Community Based Crime Reduction initiative in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.

Gary Zhang, Ph.D. is Research Associate, working out of the Los Alamitos, California office. His initial work will include analysis for the Capturing Kids’ Hearts school safety project. Gary recently completed his PhD in Criminology at the University of South Carolina. His dissertation analyzed the effects of school-based crime prevention measures in a national sample of schools using a quasi-experimental design. Gary has also worked as a Crime Analyst for the City of Albuquerque and as a Research Specialist for the State of West Virginia.


WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center (JPRC) is a WestEd initiative that collaborates with partners in funding, implementing, and evaluating programs that promote positive youth development, physical health and well-being, and prevention of risk behaviors, including violence. Keep current on the latest JPRC reports, research studies, projects, events, and news by subscribing to our monthly newsletter, visiting the JPRC website, or by emailing Anthony Petrosino, the director of JPRC, at

WestEd is a nationally recognized nonprofit research, development, and service agency. The agency’s mission is to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve social and learning outcomes for children, youth, and adults. WestEd has a long history of effective collaboration with local community, justice, and education agencies in implementing and evaluating successful programs that promote positive youth development, physical health and well-being, and prevention of risk behaviors, including violence.
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