2016-12-21 / Voice at the Shore

Caplan’s crime-reduction model expected to make AC a safer place

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor

Dr. Joel Caplan, who spoke to the Jewish Business Network about his data-driven crime-reduction model, with Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White, at the JBN talk. White has championed the use of Caplan’s model to reduce crime in Atlantic City.Dr. Joel Caplan, who spoke to the Jewish Business Network about his data-driven crime-reduction model, with Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White, at the JBN talk. White has championed the use of Caplan’s model to reduce crime in Atlantic City.
Joel Caplan was a police officer in Cape May, a 911 dispatcher in Longport, and an emergency medical technician in Atlantic City. He went on to study criminal justice and get his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he developed a research-based system for reducing crime called Risk Terrain Modeling. That system– which has reduced crime rates by as much as 42% in some cities—is now being implemented to reduce crime in Atlantic City.

Caplan, who is now an associate professor at Rutgers, spoke about the Atlantic City crimereduction initiative at a “power lunch” held by the Jewish Business Network (JBN), a networking group for Jewish professionals, at Sofia Ristorante in Margate on December 9. Caplan’s talk was the sixth in a series of JBN luncheons dedicated to the theme of “Driving Business Back to Atlantic County.” According to JBN cochairs David Lieberman of Allstate Insurance, and Stephanie Koch of JEVS Human Services, Caplan’s crime-reduction model has the potential to make Atlantic City more attractive to tourists as well as to new business ventures.

Just as a playground offers an inviting environment for children to gather and play, certain urban areas contain elements that make them ripe for criminal activity, Caplan explained. According to his research, these elements often include abandoned buildings, empty lots, gas stations with mini-marts, grocery stores and convenience stores. Urban areas containing a combination of these features are likely to attract crime in the same way a playground attracts children, said Caplan.

Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM) analyzes environmental risk factors associated with crime. The model looks at high-crime areas and analyzes the environmental factors present that contribute to crime. This analysis helps “community stakeholders address the context that contributes to crime and correct it,” said Caplan.

Atlantic City’s Police Chief Henry White, who attended the JBN meeting at Caplan’s invitation, has championed the city’s use of RTM. The value of this model, he said, is that it shifts the focus of crime reduction away from people and onto place, using hard data showing that people tend to commit crimes in certain kinds of environments. “That’s why I like this model so much,” White told the roughly 30 JBN lunch attendees.

People generally see fighting crime as the job of the police, who in turn traditionally focus on those who perpetrate or are likely to perpetrate crime, said White. This focus on people being the problem can pit the police against community members, causing community relations problems.

In addition to shifting the focus of crime prevention away from people and onto environmental risk factors, RTM also involves community stakeholders other than police in crime reduction. In Atlantic City, the model identified and analyzed 10 highrisk areas where 25% of all shootings and 58% of robberies have taken place. The goal moving forward is to cool these hot spots and prevent new incidents by making environmental changes, said Caplan. Such changes are now being determined and are likely to include installing better lighting, boarding up vacant buildings, and repurposing empty lots—strategies that fall under the domain of public works rather than police.

In Atlantic City as well as other cities, Caplan’s first task in implementing RTM is to establish buy-in on the part of multiple stakeholders by gathering data and doing analysis to show how crime rates could be impacted by the use of RTM. This process was initiated in Atlantic City in 2015 and has recently been completed. The city is now poised to begin developing and implementing crime reduction strategies in the 10 identified hot spots for crime.

Caplan said it was important for JBN members and other business people to realize that this RTM initiative exists, that it has been effective in other cities, and is likely to work here as well. He also stressed that Atlantic City’s initiative is somewhat unique due to the broad-based support it has received from the start.

“This initiative is quite exceptional in that it was initiated by the chief of police and endorsed by the mayor,” as well as by many other community groups, said Caplan.

JBN co-chair Lieberman thanked Caplan and White for coming to the lunch, giving a special thanks to White and AC Police Captain James Sarkos, who also attended the luncheon. “You have the most dangerous and difficult job. We appreciate your service,” said Lieberman.

The Jewish Business Network holds monthly “power lunches” where local Jewish professionals can network and learn more about trends affecting the local business climate. Non-Jewish professionals are also welcome to attend. For more information on upcoming lunches and membership, contact Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties, at (609) 822-4404. s

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