15 Minutes With…

Christina Walker and Christina Walker

Enduring the walk from Tech to Kellogg in the dead of winter, Prof. Wesley Skogan towers over those passing by as he strides across the snow covered walkway. He opens a door on the north side, taking as he calls it the backway into the lounge. “It’s the shortest distance between me and my coffee.” Skogan, who has been a political science professor at Northwestern since 1971, is an expert on crime and policing. He has stood before Congressional committees, written several books, worked at the Justice Department and now his latest project deals with the Chicago-based prevention program known as CeaseFire, which focuses on shootings and killings. “In the case of CeaseFire, they came to me,” Skogan says. While he typically has to compete in order to receive funding for a book, these were special circumstances. The Justice Department had identified the issue as a project they could get behind. “What happened was the Laura Bush staff called and says, ‘Find us something promising in the world of delinquency supervision.'” The National Institute of Justice presented Skogan with a $988,000 budget, allowing him to conduct two-and-a-half years of extensive research on CeaseFire. When Skogan started with the project, there were around 25 communities involved in CeaseFire. The program’s most famous aspect is the “interrupters”-ex-cons who return to their communities and intervene personally in violent situations. Skogan and his team interviewed 300 clients out of a random sample from the active client file. “They were high risk,” Skogan says. “Almost all of them had been in jail, lots of them multiple jailings, police records, a number of them we asked if they were carrying a gun, they say yes.” While some were dangerous, the familiar environment of the office created for a safe atmosphere. “(Afterwards) we gave them a $50 Best Buy Card. And let me tell you, for clientele like this, it was a great incentive,” Skogan says. “Best Buy is where they want to go. These are guys who don’t have a lot to do in the afternoons.”One of the key elements of the program was the outreach workers. “(They) were 30-year-old Joes for whom this was a social service job,” says Skogan. Of the CeaseFire programs that had been in business for 77 months or more, there was a 16 to 27 percent drop in crime depending on the community. Though the research went well, there was a close call. The day before Skogan planned to go to Austin, one of the gangs identified someone they thought was giving up information to the police. “They cut out his tongue, just pulled it out and lobbed it off. And that was one of the clients, so everybody was in complete hysteria.” Though they didn’t go to Austin, the staff got a few Best Buy cards along with some pizza for all the hard work they had done.While there’s no set release date for the book, the federal government has published a summary of it, which is available on its Web site. For Skogan, the “best thing about it, I negotiated my contract and some pages are of glossy color. It’s very unusual, they’ve never done one before-glossy colored pages. But I’ve got these hot spot crime maps, which look gorgeous. People will run their thumb through it. ‘Oh my God,’ they’ll say, ‘Oxford University Press is putting out color maps!'”