Brooke Cooley, a second year doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, jumped at the opportunity to conduct real-world research in conjunction with the Little Rock Police Department.
The LRPD recently received nearly $500,000 from a federal grant that will assist in its ability to have crime scene evidence analyzed in-house, and improve the investigations of gun-related crimes in Little Rock through a Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit.
“Little Rock has seen an increase in gun violence, and at this point, people want to know is this a trend we need to be worried about or is it just a little blimp,” Cooley said. “For academics and criminologists, it’s really hard to tell.”
After receiving the grant, the LRPD joined forces with the UA Little Rock Criminal Justice Department, and awarded $62,800 in funding to help analyze the effectiveness of the new intelligence unit and evaluate areas for improvement.
“The police department did a great job of getting this grant, and when they applied for it, they asked us to come on to do the research because [they] really needed that third party help,” Cooley recalled.
Cooley recently transferred to UA Little Rock from the University of Nebraska Omaha, to work exclusively on this project. While attending a research conference last year, she was introduced to Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, graduate coordinator in the UA Little Rock Department of Criminal Justice, who informed her about the unique experience provided by the grant. Cooley’s advisor, Dr. Lisa Sample, seconded ten Bensel’s proposal, and Cooley, in turn, hit the ground running.
“UA Little Rock had better research opportunities for me, which is the goal for Ph.D. students; to be well rounded in everything that they do,” she said.
During this two-year project, Cooley will work alongside Criminal Justice Department Chair Mary Parker, faculty members Trisha Rhodes and Jim Golden, and fellow peer, Steven McCain, who is also a doctoral student. Her responsibility will be to work with the intelligence unit, conducting interviews and noting their processes, as well as working closely with crime analysts.
“This is a major project,” Cooley said. “It’s one thing reading books and doing papers, but actually working with agencies and their employees is two different things.”
While at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Cooley was able to conduct research at the Douglas County Jail, but she has never worked on an assignment of this magnitude.
“I’ve had some experiences working with agencies with Dr. Sample, but never, honestly, at a grant this large,” she explained, “but, I have full confidence because I’m also working with Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Golden, who do have the experience working on these types of grants. I’m really excited to learn from them.”
As a student with a passion for research and discovery, Cooley understands the importance of working on a project of such grave importance.
“I think right now we don’t do the best as a field incorporating research and the applied part together,” she said. “I think there’s a gap there. Sometimes we research things, and us as academics, we don’t put that information out there for practitioners to know what works and what doesn’t.”
Cooley believes that maybe she was destined to be in the field of criminal justice. Her dad is now a retired police officer. Even as a child, she always felt connected to this line of work.
“When I was an undergraduate, I decided between pursuing criminal justice or sports management and therapy,” she said. “I’d played soccer and enjoyed sports and athletics, but criminal justice just seemed to keep my interest a little more.”
As a result, Cooley is happy about her future and the future of this project.
After obtaining her doctorate, she plans to remain in the world of academia, conducting research for a university or government agency.