Criminal Justice Students Contribute to Safe Communities

Written by Laura Paskin
March 19, 2013

Criminal Justice graduate students Heather Burns (left) and Lindsie Gillon (right) supported Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in their community outreach efforts. Working under the direction of Professor Stephen Rice, they compiled and reported on data from hundreds of participants in community meetings throughout the city. Their reports, which were released in February, focused on the Seattle community as a whole and separately on immigrant and refugee communities.

In 2012, SPD came under scrutiny by the Department of Justice.  To address Department of Justice concerns, the City of Seattle developed a plan of initiatives for SPD. “SPD 20/20: A Vision for the Future,” is a set of 20 initiatives. Implementation is taking place over 20 months. Initiative 19, “Launch a Community Outreach Effort,” resulted in meetings among in every precinct in the city.

“We were approached by the Mayor’s Office to help with thousands of statements gathered during community outreach meetings,” Rice said. “The students took classroom analytic skills and put them into practice in a high-profile, real-world setting.”

Burns and Gillon analyzed raw data from the hundreds of the participants and created reports that divided the analyses into five categories: top concerns about public safety, what can communities and the police do together to create safer communities, what is going well between the community and SPD, what needs to improve, and what steps can be taken to keep the community engaged in the process of creating safer communities. The reports are on the SPD website.

“The citizens as a whole showed support for SPD,” Gillon said. “I was excited to have this opportunity to build relationships with SPD and the City, especially since the police have had such a high profile in the media.”

Burns was surprised at the findings: “Of the thousands of comments gathered at the meetings, only a handful were about race or use of force.”

Burns, is finishing her master’s thesis, works for the Washington State Patrol as support staff in the Criminal Investigations Division. Gillon, who graduates in June and has had experience with the federal government’s NW High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area federal program, plans to continue to work at the federal level.

The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 42 undergraduate majors, 37 minors, and 7 master's degrees, including an M.A. in Criminal Justice.