As Americans’ interest in crime soars, local experts say University students are following the trend, putting criminology classes in high demand. So sociology professors Edward Shihadeh and Matthew Lee have set up a group to foster the growing student and faculty interest.

Collecting the University’s interdisciplinary talents in criminology, Shihadeh and Lee formed a loose association of researchers called the Crime and Policy Evaluation Research group. The group functions without a building or office, formal hiring process or budget but has attracted about 15 faculty members and graduate students during the past six months, researches crime issues — like the relationship between race and crime — and publishes the findings.

“It’s growing like mad,” Shihadeh said. “We’ve really hit on something here.”

Shihadeh and Lee attribute this growing interest in part to the events of Sept. 11.

“Anytime people feel less secure, that is a reflection on their perception of crime,” Shihadeh said.

Whatever the cause, students interested in crime have flooded the sociology department.

“We reached a critical mass of criminologists in the sociology department,” Shihadeh said. “We could double enrollment and still have to turn students away.”

By encouraging student participation in its research, Lee said CAPER is giving graduate students hands-on experience in the field — something not offered in the classroom.

“Our goal is no less than to turn LSU into the place to study crime,” Shihadeh said.

The team is interdisciplinary in scope, with members hailing from the sociology, political science, geography, theater and forensic accounting departments — the common thread being a background in crime study.

CAPER’s most recent publication is a fact sheet on the murder clearance rates in Baton Rouge. Murder clearance rates indicate how many reported murders end in arrest.

“[Murder clearance rates] are the police’s GPA,” Shihadeh said.

The fact sheet shows that the BRPD has performed consistently higher than the national average in clearing murders.

CAPER members, Shihadeh and sociology professor Wesley Shrum published a study last year on race and crime statistics in Baton Rouge. They analyzed nearly 300 neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, tallying traditional crime predictors, such as the number of low-income households, female-headed families, vacant buildings, minorities and unemployed residents present in a neighborhood.

After analyzing the neighborhood data and statistics, they showed that when considered apart from the above indicators, the racial composition of a neighborhood does not significantly correlate to the presence of crime, proving systematically what sociologists have long suspected — that crime is not a product of race.

“I hope this will change the way people look at minority neighborhoods,” Shihadeh said.

Lee and Shihadeh also research “subcultures of violence” and have found that the Southern, rural white group is among the nation’s most violent subculture, according to data. They said their data shows Southern whites are tolerant of a wider range of violent crimes than other Americans and are especially susceptible to argument-based murder.

Contact Jenni Payne at jpayne@lsureveille.com

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