My research interests lie in the area of criminology, political sociology, and critical theory. Within these fields my work focuses primarily on the origins and development of policing practices, issues in international police reconstruction and state-building, situating state formation in a broader context of neoliberal globalization and neoimperialism, and growing alternatives to policing and state-based security
Currently much of my work centers on recent data collected in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) territory of Iraq, working in conjunction with Gabrielle Ferrales (University of Minnesota) and Wenjie Liao (Rochester Institute of Technology). This data set consists of ethnographic observations of police and judges conducting their duties, interviews with police and judges (N=40, average length=43 minutes), and most centrally, an experimental factorial survey from a stratified random sample of judges and police currently serving in the region (N=110, 5,500 cases). Interview and survey respondents were drawn from cities, towns, and villages throughout the KRG and all levels of the police and judiciary, representing major urban centers and rural locations, and ranging from front-line officers to Chiefs of police and judges of first instance to the Supreme Court.
Respondents were asked to assess criminal sentences in hypothetical case vignettes of prison guards accused of torturing imprisoned suspects by assigning “just” sentences. These vignettes contained a number of common variables whose categories or values were randomly varied, most centrally the national/military affiliation of both actors (whether they are Kurdish or a member of the Coalition, an Islamic State (IS) suspect, or from the Government of Iraq (GOI)). This research design operationalizes the indeterminate effect of torture law and the presence of IS by experimentally manipulating a wide range of case characteristics in the vignettes. The random assignment also allows variables to be examined independently of one another. We are thus able to assess the independent effects of characteristics of the defendant (e.g. Kurdish prison guard) and the victim (e.g. IS suspect) upon the punishment of torture (e.g. sentence length). We are currently in the final stages of data analysis and have begun drafting articles, with the first of these expected to be submitted for publication in the Spring.
Such data is incredibly unique as I am, to my knowledge, the only researcher working directly with judicial actors and security personnel in the KRG. As such, the resulting publications from this study have the potential to make path-breaking contributions to scholarship on how criminal justice actors operate in conflict scenarios, highlighting how their decision-making and practices are informed by extra-legal processes beyond the written legal code. In addition to expanding our social scientific understanding of legal decision-making in an under-studied conflict setting, it also has the potential to contribute more broadly to scholarly work on punishment, human rights, sentencing disparity, and general legal decision-making as they relate to larger patterns of social stratification.
Another major line of research I am currently developing is examining the reform and abolition movements which emerged in the wake of the uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. This stems from my work with the Alliance for Police Accountability, a Black-led Pittsburgh-based organization leading a movement to dramatically reshape not only the police department, but how community health and well-being are conceptualized and delivered in the region. The group, in collaboration with other activist organizations, affected communities, and front-line practitioners have produced a community vision (of which I was the principal author) outlining how we can create safe and healthy communities without criminalization, and we are currently traveling to multiple sites throughout the nation to learn from others who have successfully established non-police forms of public safety. Also growing out of this work, although very much in its infancy now, is investigating the community defense councils which formed around the city of Minneapolis. As police refused to perform their duties in the wake of the uprising, many neighborhoods created their own forms of social order and crime control. This project seeks to understand how this occurred, what shaped the thinking of those involved, and how these efforts may carry forward in producing de-policing schemes that can inform the wider movement to reign in the power of American police.
The final line of my current research centers on my work with the training department of the Pittsburgh Police Department (PPD), in collaboration with Norm Conti (Duquesne University). Dr. Conti has spearheaded an Inside-Out program in which police recruits take a course inside a state correctional institution alongside incarcerated citizens. Given the success of the pilot version of this program, we are currently working with PPD to expand the number of police recruits who participate in the Inside-Out course in future cohorts. As we expand this project from the pilot stage to full implementation across PPD training efforts, we are developing and implementing an expanded curriculum, as well as instituting a variety of assessments to examine if/how/why the program impacts officer attitudes and behaviors. We will use the assessment to scale up the program, as well as develop a curriculum and relevant training materials that can be instituted by other police forces around the nation.
If you’ve read this far, you’re either considering giving me a major grant or are one of my parents. So to you I say: whichever project I have submitted for your consideration will produce important insights based on novel methodologies which will greatly enhance the literature on several important questions, or Hi Mom! Hi Dad!
Here’s what I’m working on these days