California State University, Long Beach
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Strengthening LBPD, Community Relationships

Published: July 10, 2017

A two-year, $600,000 grant from California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) has brought together criminology, criminal justice and emergency management’s director Brenda Vogel with faculty member Nicholas Perez in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) and the community it serves.

“When Tracy Colunga, with the Long Beach Development Services, reached out to me to serve as the evaluator on this project, I immediately thought of Nick,” said Vogel, a member of the university since 2001. “I emailed him and asked if he wanted to do this with me and he said yes. This project continues a long and supportive relationship we have with the city and the LBPD. It is a great project at the right time.”

“This grant is so exciting for me, specifically because it gives me the opportunity to work with many criminal justice professionals in the Long Beach community,” said Perez, who joined CSULB in the fall of 2016. “It can be very difficult to move into a new area across the country and develop partnerships and get involved in research projects but this grant has allowed me to quickly become familiar with certain key activities of the police department in my new home city. Serving as an evaluator for this project fits well with my research agenda in law enforcement as it has the potential to make meaningful changes in the relationship between the Long Beach Police Department and the Long Beach community. In today’s social and political climate, this topic is of the utmost importance. As a researcher, I always hope to enhance the current knowledge in an important area to ultimately, impact the lives of others in a positive way and this grant gives us the opportunity to do just that.”

The grant, which runs in partnership with the City of Long Beach, the LBPD and the California Conference for Equality and Justice, seeks to assess programs that attempt to resolve issues that divide area law enforcement and local citizens.

“Dr. Vogel and I work together as evaluators on the grant,” Perez explained. “It is a four-stage program that begins with a community police academy.”

“The first stage consists of 12 community police academies that seek to invite around 30 members of the community to be trained in what it is police really do and to take part in a number of hands-on scenarios,” he added. “What are the laws of arrest? When are the police authorized to stop you? What should the civilian do and what should they NOT do? The LBPD is especially interested in inviting community leaders who are in a better position to disseminate what they have learned to their respective groups.”

The program continues with a second stage including a series of six dialogues between community members and law enforcement to reach a new level of understanding and a third stage in which every LBPD officer will receive “implicit bias” training.

“I define implicit bias as an unconscious attitude toward certain individuals or groups of people,” said Perez. “Officers may not understand how their behavior has been impacted by implicit biases, and the training aims to educate the officers about this phenomenon.” The fourth stage is comprised of a social media campaign to promote the grant activities on Facebook, Twitter and using the GOLBPD smartphone app.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF NICHOLAS PEREZ
Nicholas Perez

The evaluation component of the two-year grant will assess participant knowledge and attitudes before, immediately after and six months after they joined these programs.

“Since the grant is aimed specifically at improving the relationship between the Long Beach Police Department and Long Beach, it has served to introduce me not only to members of Long Beach law enforcement but the city, campus and the community. Plus, there will be the potential for multiple publications at the end of the grant,” he said.

Perez earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Florida in Orlando as well as a doctorate in criminology from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2016.

Perez also has considered the role of adverse childhood experiences in juvenile delinquent behavior as part of his overall research agenda.

“What were their experiences with childhood traumas? Was there abuse or neglect in their home? Was there a parent with a mental illness? Did their parent have a substance abuse problem? Was a family member incarcerated?” he said. “And, overall, what were the effects of these experiences on the likelihood of a child being a serious violent offender or being suicidal? If a teen experiences a high level of trauma, would it direct him or her to internalized or externalized violence? In my dissertation project, a higher level of childhood adversity was found to be predictive of both external violence and thoughts of suicide in juveniles.”

Perez hopes that his research will help us better understand the relationship between law enforcement and the local community as well as the different factors that impact a juvenile’s path toward externalized or internal violence.

“What about juveniles who began to associate with deviant peers who had their own histories of adversity?” he asked. “Are they more likely to engage in toward violence to others? Did those who abused substances more frequently go toward more internalizing violent behavior? I definitely want to learn more about them through my research.”