When Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, Tammy Kochel was uniquely positioned to gauge the impact. As associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University, Kochel had surveyed residents of St. Louis County between 2012 and 2013 about how different policing strategies affected their view of police. After the shootings, she conducted a similar survey to see if those views had changed.
“I felt obligated to do the study because I had a unique data set that showed how county residents felt about police prior to the shooting,” she says. “I could offer knowledge that other researchers could not.”
Her findings, published in 2015, found that trust in police declined considerably among the county’s African-Americans residents after Brown’s death, while perceptions of police misconduct rose. She offered a variety of recommendations based on her research, including that local police needed to improve their media communications strategies and provide accurate information to the public. She also recommended that police address racially based disparities in how residents are treated, increase the number of minority officers on the force, and build trust by addressing residents’ concerns and treating them with respect.
Kochel continues to work with the St. Louis County Police Department to conduct surveys and offer policy advice—which often emphasizes the involvement of local residents. In a paper published in 2017, Kochel and a co-author compared hot spots—high-crime areas that receive more police resources—with collaborative approaches where police work with residents. The paper recommended that police agencies “allow residents to provide input on the nature of the crime problems and potential strategies for addressing them… At a minimum, police should explain their planned actions to residents to avoid generating mistrust of officers’ motives.”
Kochel’s views on the criminal justice system were influenced by her work with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office in the 1990s. She believed strongly in COPS’s focus on building relations between police and local communities. “It became clear that some things police do are effective against crime, but many things they do are not,” she says. “These experiences gave me a hunger to partner with police to measure how what they do not only affects crime, but people.”
Her current projects include working with the Springfield Illinois Police Department to reduce gang-related gun violence while improving perceptions of procedural justice and police legitimacy. She’s also working on a Minority Youth Violence Prevention project—funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—with the St Louis County Health Department, St. Louis County Police, the Police Athletic League, numerous county schools, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Not for Kochel. She’s also started a book based on her research.
The Charles Koch Foundation requests proposals from scholars like Kochel who are working to understand the challenges facing our criminal justice system and find solutions.