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UMPI Criminal Justice students conduct study for local police department

Criminal Justice students with the University of Maine at Presque Isle recently completed a study for the Presque Isle Police Department on theft from motor vehicles, partnering with municipal officials to better serve the community.

Dr. Charles Johnson, UMPI Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, supervised nine Criminal Justice students on the research project, titled Theft from Motor Vehicles: A Study in Presque Isle, Maine. The 40-page document explores the issue of items stolen from motor vehicle in Presque Isle – typical targets include cell phones, prescription medication, and cash – in an effort to provide solutions to the problem.

“This project gave our students the opportunity to recognize a current crime problem, to research possible causes, and to make substantive recommendations for its suppression,” Dr. Johnson said. “It was a great way to involve UMPI Criminal Justice students in a real-world situation tied to their area of study, and to complete work that positively impacts the local community.”

Student researchers who contributed to this project included Christopher M. Bessey, Jeremy Brock, Dustin Cray, Ethan Doody, Brandon Doughty, Elizabeth Flagg, Andrew Levesque, Craig Maffei and Adam Pinette. Dr. Johnson said this particular project came about following several talks with Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin and Deputy Chief Laurie Kelly regarding the current mission of the National Institute of Justice to connect academics with Criminal Justice practitioners.

To complete the study, Dr. Johnson’s students conducted research to better understand theft from motor vehicles and to cite evidence of the problem in cities across the United States and also in the United Kingdom, where it is the largest category of police recorded crime. The students also did specific research on theft from motor vehicles in Presque Isle during the past three years, identified the five most-impacted streets and five other streets selected at random for comparison, and conducted two studies of those 10 streets.

The group developed and conducted a two-page survey to determine how prevalent theft from motor vehicles has been in the identified neighborhoods. They also completed a physical visual survey of the streets to determine their physical make-up (such as lighting and traffic volume) and to observe the number of parked cars with unlocked doors and valuables left in sight.

“What we learned is that many Presque Isle residents are very trusting and think they can leave valuables in plain view in their unlocked, unattended vehicles and that those possessions will not be taken,” Dr. Johnson said. “They are surprised when they discover that opportunists have rifled through unlocked vehicles in search of drugs, cell phones, cash, and other valuables. There appears to be a culture of leaving unattended vehicles unlocked in Presque Isle. It is probable that this practice leads to higher levels of theft from motor vehicles.”

Based on their research and survey results, the group’s recommendations to the Presque Isle Police Department were to consider adopting a ticket warning policy that educates the public about locking car doors and hiding valuables, to police “hotspots” (problems areas), and to educate the public – perhaps through public service announcements – about the connections between their routine activities and the likelihood that they could be targeted with theft from motor vehicles.

The Presque Isle Police Department is reviewing the research and recommendations and has thanked the group for its hard work on the study.

“The study completed by your team provides not only insight into the crime related concerns of our citizens, important to any police organization, but also practical advice and solutions for overcoming those concerns,” Presque Isle Police Chief Irwin stated in a letter to Dr. Johnson. “I will be meeting with my staff to discuss the recommendations made in this study and assess how we might implement some or all of them. The hard work of your team and the depth of discussion provided in the study gives me great confidence and anticipation for additional opportunities to collaborate on a variety of issues faced by this community.”