October 2019


Hello, Pracademics!

Director’s Note:  

Ghostly greetings! October is the month for ghouls, monsters, and all things scary! In this issue we take on the relationship between the full moon and crime. We have discussed this “lunar hypothesis” at several law-enforcement conferences (as recently as last week!); many officers insist that crime spikes during a full moon, based on their own experience. As a tribute to this boo-tiful month, we thought it would be fun to partner with our pracademics to shed moonlight on this issue. So we kicked off a three-country study, partnering with police departments in the US, Canada, and Mexico to analyze their calls-for-service and case data over the phases of the moon.

In this Halloween newsletter we also share our thoughts about research and a few things that scare us, and chat with Rich Johnston about the Barrie Police Service lunar-hypothesis study.

Happy Hallo-scream!

Pracademia in Practice: Is the full moon related to crime?

Although the BetaGov team is very busy assisting our partners with their trials, we occasionally slip in something fun or provocative. This was the case when Lt. Jason Potts of the Vallejo (CA) Police Department told us of a recent article from Australia that looked at the purported relationship between crime and the full moon. We were intrigued. Surprisingly, the research evidence on this is mixed. Some studies find evidence of a lunar effect, and others show nothing. Jason pulled together his agency’s crime data from January 2014 through May 2018, researched phase of the moon for each crime event, and sent us his data for analysis. The results demonstrate no association between crime events and full moon. This tells us that, in Vallejo at least, people don’t commit more crimes when there is a full moon. Other PDs heard about this analysis and were curious whether there was evidence for the lunar hypothesis in their own data.  To make sure we had North America represented, we quickly teed up replication studies with the Barrie (Ontario) Police Service in Canada and the Irapuato Citizen Safety Secretariat in Mexico. We merged moon-phase data into their calls-for-service and crime data. What did we find? Nothing. Although these kinds of analyses are fun, the findings have practical implications for policing such as in developing staffing assignments and distribution of other law-enforcement resources. The bottom line is be vigilant in questioning your assumptions and use your data to explore. It might just surprise you. 
Learning Corner: Don’t be scared!

Any new venture can be scary, but some experiences get scarier over time because we become more knowledgeable about possible pitfalls and complications. It sometimes becomes clear that a trial might be more challenging than we initially thought: the “easy little” aromatherapy trial requires a nonexistent distribution system, a good randomization plan that accounts for variables that might affect outcomes, and encouraging survey responses of all participants. Each of these becomes a lesson in frustration. In short, to develop and conduct research requires an understanding of all the nuances of the environment and culture. While research often seems daunting, there is no cause for alarm—we (and your peer pracademics) can often help you address potential barriers to your trial!
News and UpdatesInvitation to replicate!

After we completed a first lunar-hypothesis study with Lt. Jason Potts of the Vallejo PD (an NIJ LEADS Scholar), another of our law-enforcement partners, Inspector Rich Johnston of the Barrie (Ont.) Police Service in Canada (also an NIJ LEADS Scholar), heard about it and was interested to know if the results would be any different in his community. At BetaGov we remind our partners that findings don’t always generalize. Results in one locale may not be the same in other places. We were excited to replicate the lunar study with Rich’s data. And when we received similar data from the Irapuato (Mexico) Citizen Safety Secretariat we were thrilled to expand to a three-country study. Replication is an important aspect of research, testing an idea multiple times to see if the results are any different. We invite others to join us in this multi-site data project. We know from firsthand encounters that many of you are strong believers in the lunar hypothesis and may not feel that the Vallejo, or Barrie, or Irapuato results are relevant for you. Perhaps the moon is especially powerful in your backyard? So we extend an invitation to other law-enforcement agencies that want to explore this association in their own data to reach out to us. If data from your jurisdiction disprove our disproving, all the merrier. It is really easy for you to test hypotheses (and, of course, our statisticians are on standby to help with data analysis). They’re your data! You have the power to answer interesting questions—just roll up your sleeves and get started….
Partner Spotlight: Rich JohnstonBarrie (Ont.) Police Service

Rich Johnston has been a sworn officer for 21 years, first with the Ontario Provincial Police in Northern Ontario, then with the Barrie Police Service since 1998. Rich currently holds the rank of Inspector and oversees the community-services, crime-prevention, traffic, marine, tactical-support, canine, court-services, and communications units. He has been working with BetaGov on several randomized controlled trials. Recently, he led an evaluation of the lunar hypothesis with data from his department. He discusses the rationale and experience of finding out that the full moon is not related to calls for service in Barrie!
Have an inspired pracademic day!
BetaGov  |  The Marron Institute of Urban Management   |  New York University  
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