Mason Criminologist Reflects on Winning Stockholm Prize

Posted: June 23, 2010 at 8:05 am, Last Updated: June 23, 2010 at 8:06 am

By James Greif

David Weisburd in Stockholm after receiving his prize from Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask. Photo by Pernille Tofte

David Weisburd, Mason Distinguished Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society (formerly Administration of Justice), received the 2010 Stockholm Prize in Criminology last week.

The award was for his research and findings that police patrols at crime “hot spots” do not merely move crime around the corner and that areas close to the hot spot receiving intervention actually showed a reduction in crime despite the fact that these areas were not the focus. Weisburd is an expert in the role that physical locations play in criminal activity.

The Stockholm Prize is considered the most prestigious in the field of criminology, and this is the first year the international committee has bestowed the award on a single individual.

The prize is awarded for scholars’ outstanding achievements in criminological research or for practitioners’  application of research results  to reduce crime and advance human rights.

The award, which included 1 million Swedish kroner (about $130,000), was presented during the annual international Stockholm Criminology Symposium. The Swedish minister for justice, Beatrice Ask, presented the award to Weisburd on June 15 at Stockholm City Hall.

Upon his return, Weisburd reflected on his experience in Sweden and receiving the award.

While it is wonderful on a personal level receiving the prize, I see the award as reflecting the growing recognition of scholars, practitioners and policy-makers in the importance of place in crime. This is what is really important for me. The work that my colleagues and I have done in this area has begun to take central stage, both in the study of crime and in crime prevention. At the prize ceremony, I noted that when I first began this work it was a bit lonely. Criminologists generally asked the question, “Why do people commit crime?” My colleagues and I began to ask another question: “Why does crime concentrate at specific places?” I am feeling a lot less lonely now. The question that I sought to push to central stage has indeed become a key question in criminology.

There were many practitioners at the symposium and ceremony, and I think that the event really reinforced for them the importance of place-based strategies in crime prevention. The commissioner of police of Sweden gave a wonderful toast at the award banquet in which he talked about the importance of place and the contributions of my work. Only time will tell, but the award and this event have in my view helped to advance place-based criminology and place-based crime prevention.

It was really an amazing event for me – a three-day symposium with over 600 participants that was organized around the prize and focused in good part on my research interests. My prize lecture, which allowed me to tell the “story” of my contributions to a large number of international criminologists, policy-makers and practitioners in a magnificent 19th-century lecture hall. And finally, the ceremony and banquet. The ceremony was held in the “blue room” of the city hall, with the speakers and awarding of the prize on the great stone steps. When I walked up to receive the award and spoke in front of the large seated crowd, I realized for the first time just how humbling this all was. When we went into the golden hall afterward for a banquet in my honor with 400 guests, it was truly overwhelming. I said to someone that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the person responded that it usually doesn’t occur in a lifetime.

The award is in my view not the end of a journey, but something that allows me to push forward my work in new ways. We are now finishing a book for Oxford University Press that provides the most comprehensive longitudinal study of crime places that has been done to date. And we are working on a seven-city randomized experiment that would allow us to test whether hot spots policing impacts negatively on citizens in affected areas, and whether we can enhance its effectiveness by paying more attention to the “legitimacy” of policing strategies. Academia for me is a passion, and that passion has only been reinforced with winning the prize. Over the next few years, I hope to encourage a new generation of students at Mason to advance the science of places to the next level.

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