Dr. Melissa Morabito is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Melissa conducts research on the adoption of police innovation concentrating on issues of technology, diversity, and police response to public health problems in the community such as mental illness, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Dr. Morabito has been active with police agencies and educational institutions. She have served in leadership roles with the Police Foundation, the American Society of Criminology, and is a member of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. She has authored several articles and served as a reviewer for many academic journals.
She earned her doctorate at American University and earned a Master in Social Work degree from Columbia University. Her Bachelor in Political Science is from the University of Pennsylvania.
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[00:00:02.610] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing, communities, academia, and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:31.610] - Steve Morreale
Well, hello, everybody. Steve Morreale coming to you from Boston. We're back at it with The CopDoc podcast, and I have the pleasure of talking to a colleague not too far up the road from University of Mass Lowell. It is Melissa Morabito. She is a PhD and in the School of Criminology & Justice Studies. So good morning to you. How are you?
[00:00:52.020] - Melissa Morabito
I'm good, thank you. How are you?
[00:00:53.380] - Steve Morreale
Actually, good afternoon. You know how it is. So in the beginning, we were just talking about the end of the semester and the doldrums of the semester and closing the semester out. And we didn't talk about all of the excuses, but there's plenty of excuses why stuff is late and whatever. Why don't you tell us about yourself to get started? How did you end up at Lowell? What's your trajectory into criminal justice? I mean, I see that you did pretty well. You went to some fine schools UPenn, Columbia and American University, and you're at UMass Lowell. How long have you been there, Melissa?
[00:01:25.440] - Melissa Morabito
I have been at UMass Lowell for ten years.
[00:01:27.640] - Steve Morreale
Great, great. What drew you here?
[00:01:29.280] - Melissa Morabito
Well, my husband and I were looking for jobs at the same time, and we wanted to be in the same city and we ended up in Boston.
[00:01:35.380] - Steve Morreale
And how are you adjusting to Lowell in Massachusetts? Where are you from originally?
[00:01:38.900] - Melissa Morabito
I'm from New York. Don’t hold it against me.
[00:01:40.530] - Steve Morreale
I won't. Are you from the city or upstate?
[00:01:43.350] - Melissa Morabito
I was born in the city and grew up in Westchester County.
[00:01:45.500] - Steve Morreale
Okay. Yeah, just up the road. Great. And so, you're adjusting, obviously. You've been here for ten years, and you've got cold weather, but how did you gravitate towards criminal justice?
[00:01:55.130] - Melissa Morabito
So it's kind of a strange trajectory, I think, for a lot of people. So I tell my students, I can either present it in a way that makes total sense and each step was carefully calculated, or I went with what was most interesting to me, and that's probably the more truthful. So I started off as a political science major in undergrad, and I did an internship with juvenile probation. It was something that was interesting, and I thought, I'd I'd give it a try. And I really was fascinated by it, and it got me very interested. And while working at the courthouse, I met some folks from Temple who were doing a study on juvenile recidivism, and they were looking through court records, and I thought, well, this is cool. And I got hired to work on that project. Really? In the courthouse and read cases? Yeah. It was my senior year of college.
[00:02:37.060] - Steve Morreale
[00:02:37.460] - Melissa Morabito
And that was really sort of the beginning of the real interest for me as how crime was happening. I decided to go get a master's in social work after I graduated, and I worked in an Alternative to Incarceration program with juveniles who had committed felony offenses. And if they completed the program, they got youthful offender status. And that got me interested in the research behind it. And really I started off interested in juveniles, but eventually I got a job with the COPS office as a policy analyst as part of the Presidential Management Fellowship program. And then I went back to grad school.
[00:03:07.900] - Steve Morreale
So you stayed in it for sure. And now you're teaching young minds to stay involved. And research, it's a scary thing to so many people, research. I know police agencies don't always like research, and they don't necessarily like inviting us in because we take good reason. Well, I'd like to hear that, but we take a long time. I mean, we take our time. There's no real rush. There's no sense of urgency. If we get to it in two years, three years, four years, fine. But police agencies and any criminal justice agency is looking for information and evidence now that they can act on. I'm sure, and I'm sure you've had that experience, you say, with good reason. What do you think your understanding of the reason is? And that reticence to allow academics or researchers in.
[00:03:51.450] - Melissa Morabito
Well, I think some of it's that parachute in, parachute out problem, where you have researchers who come in and collect data that they need and then they leave. And it often uses up a lot of resources on behalf of the police agency to be able to pull together that data and for no particular help to them. And I think that there are still some of my colleagues who may lie about why they're coming in there or may want to go with the gotcha approach of we see that this is happening. But I work on research topics that are problematic and challenging for everybody, right. And so we kind of know that sometimes we're not going to find great outcomes. But what can we do? If I present you with this information, what could you do to enhance your response down the line?
[00:04:29.100] - Steve Morreale
What draws you to certain topics now? Because I look up and down, you've been on a number of different paths, from sexual assault and the investigation of that to mental health issues to correspondence, and you can explain more. And I'm getting dragged into correspondence, and for good reason. I must say it's very, very intriguing to me. The police certainly need to have some help in dealing with the rise in mental health issues and calls that come. But what draws you? It always makes me wonder, and I teach, like yourself, research methods. And one of the first of all, that's a scary course for so many people, but it's about curiosity, don't you think? It's about asking questions and trying to find what don't we know? We hear this term, again, a scary term, evidence-based policing. So react to those things. What draws you? What drives you to dig, search for answers, for questions?
[00:05:16.610] - Melissa Morabito
So with my social work background, I've always been interested in vulnerable populations. And I think my background has kind of pulled me to where I am today. Most people will never meet Elizabeth Warren or Ed Markey, but they'll meet a police officer. And police officers are the government representatives that most people are likely to come in contact with. And they also, unfortunately, are the frontline for a lot of our social issues. Right. A lot of people facing challenges, and particularly around behavioral health, so like substance use disorders and mental health. And so they're not always roles that police are excited to be filling. And maybe it's not always I think we could all agree that there would be better options, that we would like different options. But at the end of the day, there are always going to be calls that are going to require a police response, and we want that response to be as good as possible. And I think that's sort of what has pulled me into it, is what does that look like?
[00:06:01.720] - Steve Morreale
So we're talking to Melissa Morabito, and she is a professor at UMass Lowell in Massachusetts. I want you to take a stab at this question. Why do you think social services is in such chaos that police get dragged into calls that don't necessarily belong in their lap? But most social service agencies are not 24/7. Policing is the only one. What's the fix? What do you think about all of that?
[00:06:24.890] - Melissa Morabito
So I don't know that I would call it chaos. I think that there's a lot of really good people doing great work. I think it's a question of funding. Social service folks get paid less than police officers overall. And I think calling it kind of a system is like calling the criminal justice system a system.
[00:06:39.260] – Steve Morreale
[00:06:39.490] - Melissa Morabito
It implies that you have agencies that are working together, and that's not always the case. Right. Sometimes you can have agencies doing the exact same thing, and they're being funded to do that, and they're not always.
[00:06:49.490] - Steve Morreale
Talking to one another.
[00:06:50.340] - Melissa Morabito
Sure. Absolutely. And I think when you look at why the police are being called in is because while mental health is an element, there's all these other issues going on at once. Right. It would be easy to isolate if it was just somebody having a mental health crisis, well, then we could react. But police are more likely to be called into situations where you have somebody with a co-occurring disorder, where they also have a substance use disorder. People have multiple problems, and it's not always clear. And I think the research has been really good at identifying that lately, that it's not always clear what the alternative response would be. That who we would send instead.
[00:07:19.480] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, it's pretty hard to do from a phone call. You have to have somebody to go out and assess what happened in emergency room. That's one of the first thing we do, is we triage. We don't know what's important, but we need somebody to make that assess meant then. So let's go with the rise in correspondence since you've been looking at it for several years, and tell me what you think about that.
[00:07:37.220] - Melissa Morabito
Sure. So I started off actually working on crisis intervention teams. That's where I kind of got my start with this with Amy Watson looking in Chicago. Chicago was implementing CIT, and they said, you can come in and take a look as we're rolling it out. And I think crisis intervention teams were state of the art. Right. They were the best case scenario at the time. Memphis came up with this ideal situation. But I think for bigger cities, crisis intervention teams don't work as well. Right.
[00:08:03.930] - Melissa Morabito
Having that centralized drop off point doesn't really work when you have a big city, when you can have so much traffic. Right. If you're coming from East Boston to Boston Medical Center, that could take a while to get the person there. But also, and probably the bigger issue is that taking somebody to the emergency Department, while better than escalating a situation or making an arrest is really not the best case scenario. Going to the emergency Department can be traumatizing. You may have a person who's waiting there for hours upon hours, and when they leave, they're given information to connect to services, but they're not actually connected. So what could we be doing instead? And I think that's where Co-Response comes in, right, is that you have that connection. My work with Co-Response has all been in Boston where the clinicians are employed by the Boston Medical Center. They're part of the Boston emergency services team. So while they are embedded in the police department, they're paid for right through BMC, which means that they get to have access to all the Boston Medical Center information and they don't have to share it with the police.
[00:08:56.740] - Melissa Morabito
Which to me is sort of the best case scenario, because they know what kind of services that person has received, if any, from BMC in the past, and then they can make future connections down the road.
[00:09:06.000] - Steve Morreale
So what I like about the Co-Response and I work with Sarah Abbott, who's now at William James College, they just started the center for Co-Response and Behavioral Health working with the Garda in Ireland because they're rolling something out fairly soon. So this is certainly you've been at this for several years. For some agencies, this is brand new. But I also know that when a clinician is engaged, they're speaking with other clinicians and they're speaking the same language. Makes it much easier than a police officer, no offense intended to the police officer, but not their training and not their certification. The police officer is really, in many cases, just wanting to get them off the plate, say, here got somebody who helps. I'm handing them to you, instead of handcuffing them and putting them in jail. And yet they don't know what the clinical issues might be. Your experience there, watching the clinicians become engaged in these, do you see and I know this will be anecdotal, but do you see better outcomes sometimes to.
[00:09:59.650] - Melissa Morabito
Kind of put in perspective, arrest is still a relatively rare event in these encounters. Even crisis intervention teams. Co-response, even without it's a relatively rare event. And some of the work that we did looking at in Portland, Oregon, mental health was not a driver of use of force and incidents. It was substance use, right? It was that co-occurring disorder. That's the issue. There's other research looking at it. Police officers are actually pretty good at identifying who has a mental illness. They can't tell you what the diagnosis is, and that's not really important for a police officer, but they're pretty good at identifying who has a mental illness. And so I think that kind of leads to the most common outcome we find in these incidents is leaving the person in the community. But if you're leaving the person in the community, even if you have a police officer who's able to de-escalate the situation, they're still going to come back because nothing else has changed. And I think that's where the Co-Responding clinician is really valuable is to say, okay, today is one of the worst days you've had in a long time.
[00:10:52.060] - Melissa Morabito
This is probably not the day to approach you about what's next, but maybe next week if I come back and have that conversation and follow up with you and we can really get down to what you need. And in some places like Boston, they're also using peer recovery specialists. So having folks in the community and there are ways to approach folks who are in crisis because you don't want to get somebody on their very worst day. And oftentimes that's what police are seeing, that it may be like a Thursday for a police officer, but it's that person's very worst day.
[00:11:18.280] - Steve Morreale
That's a great point because I think what some of the benefits are of having clinicians are those follow up visits when things have died down, engaging the family in the process. And sometimes that is the clinician alone, and sometimes it's with a police officer who's going in tandem. I know I've seen that happen in Worcester. I've seen that happen in Boston. We see that happen in many towns. Because what's starting to happen, Melissa, and I'm sure you're beginning to see that small departments and we're a community that's made up of a lot of small departments, 20-25 people, you know, where up where you live, down where I live, that you can't afford a full-time person. So what you do is you share in a regional setting, that follow up is really important. So what's your thought about that? What's your thought about pushing this idea of correspondence, of collaborative work, of teamwork, both at the court, at the hospital, and the police departments?
[00:12:07.280] - Melissa Morabito
I mean, I like the idea of Co-response. I would like to expand it beyond the idea of just mental health. I think that it would allow for police agencies to be more flexible as new problems arise. Instead of waiting for a grant funding to say, okay, we have this new issue, we want to try it out to have clinicians who can be flexible, right, who can work with different populations and do that outreach.
[00:12:27.830] - Steve Morreale
So you do a lot of research. I'm going to ask the proverbial question. So you do this research, you publish it in a journal, generally an academic journal. So what? Who reads it? Who cares? How do we make it actionable? How do we bring it to the field in a more accessible readable way?
[00:12:44.820] - Melissa Morabito
Sure. And I do think a lot about this, and I am employee of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, just like you. And so I think about this a lot, right. And what my responsibilities are. I mean, for me, I will not say no to any community that comes asking for help in Massachusetts. And I may prioritize Middlesex County because that's where we're located, but I will always be there to assist. So there's that. I do a lot of work as the academic partner for the Boston Police Department, and that's the primary agency that I work with. And so when we get a grant or when they get a grant and I'm the academic partner, we do a lot of discussion of, okay, what do we need to do to satisfy the funder to make sure that the police department is meeting its obligations? What does the police department want to know? What questions can we ask here that we can share that information with you? And then finally, what does Bpd or any agency really want to share with the world? Because I also look at it as while it's an academic journal and not a lot of people looking at it, you have lots of agencies that are doing really innovative work and nobody knows about it.
[00:13:41.050] - Melissa Morabito
Or maybe it's in a final report somewhere, an annual report, and it's not shared with the world. And so while academic journals are not, they're problematic for a lot of ways. There's some good things about it too, to kind of share. This is what we're learning. Maybe we have not established this as an evidence-based practice yet, but here are some background information and some context for that next person then to pull it along and be able to design that study where they can determine if this is an evidence based practice.
[00:14:03.990] - Steve Morreale
Well, yeah, and I think that's smart and certainly one of the things, future research, whatever you're finishing, who else can carry the ball forward? Can you do this in longitudinal study so that we're not looking at a snapshot, we're looking at it for a longer period of time. One of the things that I wrote, and I know that you took some issue to chaos and what I meant by chaos was this, is that some of those agencies, like you said, I agree they don't get paid well at times, but more importantly, they're overwhelmed and understaffed and policing is going in that direction. We're not adding necessarily a lot of people to the workforce. We're asking agencies to do more with less, whether that is youth services or that is domestic violence or alcohol or mental health. All of those social service agencies are sort of put on the back burners. I think as a society it's almost like, well, we need them, but we don't want to give them too much. I mean, think about probation and probation officers and the caseloads that they have. What's your thought about that issue? In other words, society's view of funding those agencies or underfunding those agencies?
[00:15:09.270] - Melissa Morabito
I know for policing, right, that the political will is not there to give police departments more money right now. And that is what it is right now. I think for social service agencies, sort of the same thing. I've been doing some work looking at schools also and police calls to public schools. It's not there. And I think there needs to be more caretaking with where the money should go. Just handing over more money is not necessarily the answer. It's a question of how it's going to be spent. And we know that in policing, right, we know more officers are not the answer. It's more officers doing specific things that is going to address crime. And I think the same goes for social services..
[00:15:45.170] - Steve Morreale
Talking to Melissa Morabito and she is a professor at University of Mass and Lowell. And you're teaching graduate and doctoral students. Are you teaching undergrad also?
[00:15:54.960] - Melissa Morabito
Yes, I mainly teach undergrad.
[00:15:56.670] - Steve Morreale
Isn't that something? So that's a big widespread so tell me your take on the next generation and the curiosity of people in the class. I know my own experience is that in a criminal justice or criminology program that not everybody wants to be a police officer. In fact, I'd guess that it might be 20 or 30%. What other things are they interested in?
[00:16:17.240] - Melissa Morabito
Sure. So, I mean, when I first started teaching God a while ago now, everybody wanted to be a police officer. I felt like there was a good portion and there's definitely been a shift. You definitely hear students who are more interested in police reform and I think that that's good too. And I tell them that if that is the case, then these classes are helpful to understand how the system works. You can't reform something if you don't understand how it should work and how it does work. Right. And what's going on. So I don't know. I'm heartened. I really like teaching undergraduates.
[00:16:43.940] - Steve Morreale
I think you're heartened. You said that's. Great. Good. I am.
[00:16:47.720] - Melissa Morabito
I think that there's a lot of really smart students. I think the last couple of years have been tough, but I think tough in a way that students have developed resilience. Every time I hear conversations about snowflakes and young people, I think, well, they're not teaching the same students you and I are teaching. Right.
[00:17:00.790] - Melissa Morabito
We're teaching students who are paying their own way and who are first gen and who are working really hard. And so those are not the students that I see.
[00:17:08.300] - Steve Morreale
You're right. I think there's a curiosity, and there's so many students that are thinking, well, cybercrime, and a big program up there, and cybercrime, Cybercriminology and cyber, or network security, those kinds of things. Infrastructure protection, victim services. I see people interested in intelligence and in crime analysis, and there's so much of a need for that. And so you've been teaching policing, and I would say for the last few years it had been tough to teach policing. Would you agree? Because here's my own take. Having been in the business for many, many years and now an educator, and you would say, okay, George Floyd happened. That was horrible. It's the worst thing ever. It certainly changed the complexion of policing. And you think, that'll never happen again, and something else does. Isn't that true here? You say, well, that was an anomaly, and the next thing you know, you're talking about something else, and the kids are thinking, well, what the hell? How do you deal with that in the classroom? Because I think there's so many real stories out there that they need to pick apart.
[00:18:06.320] - Melissa Morabito
I start off on my classes talking about current events. I just face it head on, right. We talk about what's going on in the world of criminal justice. And I think it's helpful then to relate back to the concepts that we're learning, things like body cameras and accountability or legitimacy. What does it mean when these stories are in the newspaper every day? And what does that do for trust? What do we know about crime rates in certain communities? And so that's how I start off class each day, and I actually give extra credit for bringing in articles themselves to engage with the news.
[00:18:34.800] - Steve Morreale
[00:18:35.280] - Melissa Morabito
Right. Because I think we're lucky to be in one of those fields where it is relevant. It's easy to point to what's going on in the world on a given day. So, in that sense, I like it.
[00:18:44.120] - Steve Morreale
It's interesting. Going back a few years, I think you can relate to this. I remember having an administrator who was not in our domain say to me, well, Steve, you don't talk about things that are untoward in your classes. You don't talk about I said, my God, this was a provost. That's all we talk about. All we talk about are things that are real. Everything from incest to rape, to abuse, to brutality to suicide. I mean, this is just what criminal justice is all about. And get them ready for the real world if they should be going in that direction, no matter what. So, I mean, I think that's what makes it almost exhilarating, like you said, and engaging students and asking them to pay attention to what's going on. And Melissa, I will tell you this, just from professor to professor. One of the things I suggest to kids to do is, okay, you're going to be focusing on this. Why don't you do a Google an alert? Yeah, there you go. I'm sorry. A Google alert to bring things to your attention no matter what you're looking at. And there are times when people say, what's that?
[00:19:44.640] - Steve Morreale
And then the next thing you know, they become very, very engaged. Like you, I'm sure I've got ten or twelve of them that are letting me know what went on in policing and police leadership in correspondence and whatever it is. So talk about that and you're smiling about that because clearly we're showing them how to let the information overload sort of be brought right to our lap. Yes.
[00:20:04.850] - Melissa Morabito
I think teaching how to use sources on the Internet, I think that that's an ongoing challenge.
[00:20:09.080] - Steve Morreale
[00:20:09.330] - Melissa Morabito
First, a group that's so tech savvy that it's still very difficult to be able to differentiate between what is a blog and somebody's opinion and what is considered to be a new source. That is definitely a challenge. And I tell them it's okay to start with Wikipedia. Sometimes, if it's a topic I don't know anything about, I'll open up Wikipedia. But then I close it, and then I look to make sure that that information is correct because anybody can add information there.
[00:20:31.480] - Steve Morreale
Sure. When we talk about Wikipedia, too. So this is how we got into this stuff. But I think I'll say take a look at what the sources are and see if those sources are of value and look for the primary source. Where was that? And was that just a bunch of BS, or is it something that you felt comfortable with? And I think part of what we're trying to do, I'm surmising, is to make them more information literate. Yes.
[00:20:54.800] - Melissa Morabito
And that's, I think, a big part of what we do, especially somebody who teaches about the system. I mean, most of the statistics coming from DOJ that I can share with are old by the time we get right. And I'll let them know that. I'm not going to test you on these numbers. Right. But it's helpful to know and ask questions, how do we critically think about this information? And I think that that is the value of this. As a liberal arts degree, you don't have to go into criminal justice. You can go work in any field you want.
[00:21:19.750] - Melissa Morabito
This is a liberal arts degree where you learn how to write and to think critically. And I think it's very valuable in that way.
[00:21:25.920] - Steve Morreale
That's interesting. I have so many students who almost come up to me when they graduate, all I want to do is to see them successful. And it's almost like they're apologizing to me when they don't go into the field. And I'll say, listen to me. I'm okay with that. You have a college degree. Go forth, make money, and change the world the best you can. I literally had somebody who is now doing mortgages and exactly. Well, we need that. But now he focused on first time buyers. And I remember him coming to me and saying, I didn't do anything with my degree. I said, yes, you did, and yes, you have, so don't worry about that. And I think that's a very interesting thing to talk about, you and I, as we are to say, It's okay. It's okay. Right. What you said. Critical thinking, understanding, research, being good consumers of research, looking for opportunities to improve whatever situation you're in. Right, sure.
[00:22:14.410] - Melissa Morabito
But I also like to say that changing your mind is not a sign of weakness. It just means that you have new information right. And you've reevaluated. And that goes for your opinions on things or even what your major is.
[00:22:23.630] - Steve Morreale
[00:22:23.810] - Melissa Morabito
Or what your career is. Changing your mind is a sign of strength to me. Right. That you are comfortable enough that you can do that.
[00:22:29.780] - Steve Morreale
Well, it's like when we send people out to internships and they come back and they'll say, oh, my God, I never want to work in there. That worked for you. Right. That gave you the opportunity to have an inside view and say, this is not what I want to do.
[00:22:42.040] - Melissa Morabito
Oh, I like to say that just saved you, like, at least two years of your life, right, of your adult life, where you were in a job that you couldn't leave right away because you need to stick it out for a little while.
[00:22:51.160] - Steve Morreale
I got you. So what's Melissa Morabito working on now, research wise?
[00:22:56.030] - Melissa Morabito
So the project that I have, I just had an article published, and another one coming out is looking at 911 calls from schools, from public schools. And that is an area that is of great interest to me. So I am working with researcher from Boston University, Dr. Jen Green, Boston Public Schools and Boston Police Department. And everybody sat down at the table, which I think is incredibly says a lot about Boston, that you had all these different folks who really wanted to get at what was happening and how often were school staff calling 911? And then what are the outcomes of those calls? How many are mental health related? How many are for other reasons?
[00:23:31.370] - Steve Morreale
And are there other outlets beyond a. 911 call. Right, sure.
[00:23:35.480] - Melissa Morabito
Right. What else could be done instead? Well, and then you add in the fact here that in Massachusetts, now under the age of twelve is not allowed in the juvenile justice system. Right.
[00:23:43.270] - Melissa Morabito
So for those five to eleven in public schools, what is the option with police? Even if they wanted to make an arrest, they could not in those situations, and they don't. There's not many arrests, just a spoiler alert on that. But what are the options and to what end would anybody call the police in those situations?
[00:24:00.950] - Steve Morreale
Well, I suppose then you must be working with in some school departments, they call it school Resource Officers or School Safety Committee.
[00:24:09.080] - Melissa Morabito
Well, so in Boston now, that's sort of one of the interesting things that we will be able to look at, is that with police reform in Massachusetts, there are no more school police officers, school resource officers. In Boston, there was a Boston Public Schools Police Department, but that went away because they were a special police department. They were paid for and trained by Boston Public Schools, but under BPD. But because they had a different academy and they were not trained, the department went away.
[00:24:34.040] - Steve Morreale
[00:24:34.250] - Melissa Morabito
So a few stayed on as school safety specialists, which I'm not quite sure what that entails yet, but now there's no police. So Boston Police Department has a school police unit, but not enough officers for the entire city, and they're not housed at the specific schools.
[00:24:48.850] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, it's sort of disappointing because I think in many other places that it has been very valuable, has to be the right person, for sure. But I think when you're talking about this banning a police agency of some sort, it's because Post came in and they determined what is a police officer and what isn't, and what academy acceptable will be licensed and won't. I actually was at a meeting the other day and listening to one of the commissioners from Post, and they're still trying to get their legs under them.
[00:25:17.200] - Melissa Morabito
[00:25:17.640] - Steve Morreale
But you're in the midst of it because you're sitting down with the Boston Police in the constant state of change. For sure. What seems quite interesting to me is the receptivity you seem to be having at BPD.
[00:25:28.950] - Melissa Morabito
Yes, well, I think this was of interest to Boston Public Schools as well, and so that was pretty groundbreaking for them all to sit down and discuss. We can't change anything until we know what the nature of the issue is. How often are police coming? And so we were able to do that. We gave Bpd a list of schools of school addresses, and they pulled and redacted they pulled 911 calls, and then for a smaller subset of the schools, redacted incident reports for us so we could look at what's happening.
[00:25:57.600] - Steve Morreale
A lot of work. Are you bringing students along with you for help on a team?
[00:26:01.300] - Melissa Morabito
We have had students, yes. We have some students from UMass Lowell, others from Boston University. So they're doing some of the coding of the incident reports, helping us analyze the data. Yeah.
[00:26:10.300] - Steve Morreale
So talk about the doctoral program and the work that you're doing. You told me that you had a class, a small class with some doctoral students. That's going to be exciting for you.
[00:26:18.540] - Melissa Morabito
Yes, it's the first doctoral class I've taught, actually. So it's very exciting for me. I've worked in the past with doctoral students, but never class wise. We have a great program. We have some great students.
[00:26:27.930] - Steve Morreale
We have a couple ourselves who we hired as faculty. So you're absolutely right. So what is the discussion going on in those classes with these young people who are aiming to be PhDs?
[00:26:39.120] - Melissa Morabito
Sure. So I kind of took a 50 50 approach where we had guest speakers come in every week for part of the class and talk about their research, but also talk about how they got where they are and what their lives look like now. And I tried to pick people working on a variety of topics that were interesting to the students, but also who in a variety of positions some who left academia, some who were doing participatory kind of research, others who sat back and did more passive kind of research where they weren't interacting with community organizations so they could see the range of what the job could look like.
[00:27:07.670] - Intro
[00:27:07.850] - Melissa Morabito
There's lots of ways to do this job, and there's lots of satisfying ways to do this job. There's not one way.
[00:27:12.620] - Steve Morreale
So what strikes me about reading your background is that you are not solely focused on policing, but on some of the other elements and some of the interrelated organizations that police work with. You're talking about the school department, which is not an unusual thing. You talk about probation and you talk about domestic violence and that kind of stuff. What's on your bucket list?
[00:27:33.710] - Melissa Morabito
What's on my bucket list? There's a lot. So I have been working with Bpd to look at involuntary commitment, which is another area of great interest to me. I feel like it's sort of swept under the rug a little bit, but it's something that police have been tasked with responding to.
[00:27:47.990] - Melissa Morabito
Especially here in Massachusetts with Section Twelve, which is involuntary commitment for people who are a danger to themselves or others around mental illness. From what we know, that being involuntarily committed is terrible.
[00:27:58.940] - Intro
[00:27:59.210] - Melissa Morabito
Even when everything's done exactly right, and even when it's warranted, it's a terrible experience for people, even with the most compassionate of police officers doing everything the right way. So learning more about that and sort of engaging in dialogue, I think, with the social service community is an area of interest. I've also been doing some work with Dr. Joslyne Chenane at UMass Lowell on police response and feelings of African immigrants towards the police, and that's been an interesting area as well.
[00:28:24.580] - Steve Morreale
Where are you focusing.
[00:28:25.420] - Melissa Morabito
That what area in New England right now?
[00:28:28.370] - Steve Morreale
Good. Yeah, I'm thinking of Maine. A large Somalian, and Dominican. Black Dominican.
[00:28:34.620] - Melissa Morabito
Yeah. Manchester, New Hampshire as well.
[00:28:36.360] - Steve Morreale
Manchester? Yeah. That's a big one. What about personal bucket list? What do you want to do in the next three to five years?
[00:28:43.100] - Melissa Morabito
Personal bucket list. My kids are everything for me right now, my kids and my husband. I have an 8th grader and a fifth grader, so we'll be moving on to high school next year. So just launching the kids out is important to me as well. Like to start traveling again as well. It's kind of been a hiatus for a little while.
[00:28:59.100] - Steve Morreale
Well, I like what you talked about. I think in many ways that as horrible as COVID was for us, it did help us understand technology, utilize technology a little bit better. The students too. And even as digital natives, and, you know, when you're in the classroom, sometimes we're not digital natives. You may be closer to being a digital native than I am, but I am known digital native, and I have to call on them, my own kids at times and say, how do you do this? But sometimes we know some things that we tell them how to do things and point them in the right direction. If you had the chance to sit down with someone famous, DEA or alive, who would that be?
[00:29:32.460] - Melissa Morabito
Oh, my goodness. That's a hard question. Someone famous, dead or alive about anything.
[00:29:36.810] - Steve Morreale
Yeah. Something you're curious about that you would just like to pick their brain?
[00:29:40.310] - Melissa Morabito
I love to cook. I would have to say Julia Child.
[00:29:42.940] - Steve Morreale
No. Isn't that something? That's the first time I've heard that. That's terrific. Yeah. Actually, my wife is listening to colleagues almost every night. It's a French I'm sorry that I don't know, french chef who was working with her all the time. And I'll share it with you because I think you might find it very interesting. She's always like, who are you listening to now? Well, he's making well, whatever, so that's wonderful. That's neat. And sir, yes, I can see why you would do that. That would be very, very interesting. And so I want to wrap up by asking a couple more questions. We're talking to Melissa Morabito, and she is a professor in criminal justice and criminology at the University of Mass in Lowell, which is in Northern Massachusetts, almost on the New Hampshire line. For people who are not familiar with Massachusetts, what do you think? The top three issues and it sounds like you're working on them are confronting the criminal justice system today.
[00:30:27.080] - Melissa Morabito
Oh, boy. The top three issues, I would say a lack of legitimacy. I think gaining that public trust or regaining the public trust is really important, and I think that that will address hiring, our hiring issues and some of those other problems as well. I think additional resources for our most vulnerable folks right, that cycling people in and out of the criminal justice system is not the answer, makes their issues harder to address down the line. Being in jail or prison is not providing any assistance to anybody, and I think just more information. I think these criminal justice agencies collect so much data, they don't have the time and resources to kind of go through and share what they're learning. And that is really up to us to be able to go in and say this is what they found. Right? And I think we do need to be more intentional and more public about it, and that's testifying in city council hearings or whatever it is about what we know and how it relates to what's happening, either in support of or saying no, this is maybe not the best program and not the best way to spend your money.
[00:31:21.850] - Steve Morreale
Interesting. We were talking to somebody the other day at a meeting, and there were a number faculty members. This was at Stonehill. There are a number of faculty members and a number of people were there from post and also from a policy committee, police policy committee that deals with the State House an awful lot. And we were saying, look, we can dig, can give you some information. If you can open the doors to us to get that information, we can make some sense of what's going on and bring that forward. And I thought the light bulb hit, and I'm sure you've been in those kinds of meetings, the light bulb hit to say you're right. I mean, not that you can be spokesman for us, but you can carry the ball, either pro or con, which is really very important. I'll leave you with this question. What's your view of the police officials that you have been able to work with? Do you have that issue of lacking legitimacy, or do you see some promise?
[00:32:05.470] - Melissa Morabito
Oh, I see a lot of promise. I think the fact that so many police departments have agreed to work with me over the years, oh, it's all.
[00:32:10.830] - Steve Morreale
About you, isn't it?
[00:32:13.610] - Melissa Morabito
Other researchers as well. But I think researchers generally to me that you have police departments that open up and say, here are our records, here are our data, tell us what you find. That is promising to me, because if all bets were off and they were closed off, they wouldn't do that, right? There would be no hope for improvement. And I think no matter how good a job a police department is doing, there's always room for improvement. There's always room for us to improve. We have a long way to go as well in our profession. So I look at it that way, and I think police agencies perhaps are more open than other criminal justice agencies, and they're used to researchers coming in and looking through their files. And I feel like it's less of an issue having worked with prosecutors offices and some other agencies, I think police are probably the most open, which doesn't fit with the narrative. Right. Is the truth. Right.
[00:32:59.770] - Steve Morreale
That's interesting. And I'll say one more thing then, because I think in some ways, and this can be somewhat blasphemous to others, but on campuses, I think criminal justice organizations, criminal justice departments are as open to working with other organizations. Interdisciplinarity is an important thing. And I think that when you're working in a criminal justice department, what I find is we may be, much like you say, the police are the most receptive, say, let's share, let's work together, as opposed to some other areas that kind of keep it close to the vest. So I can see that both from both sides, from having been in policing and having been in CJ, where we say we'll share.
[00:33:34.420] - Melissa Morabito
Well, these are complicated problems.
[00:33:35.920] - Intro
[00:33:36.280] - Melissa Morabito
I mean, siloing is not going to create the answer, and I think we're past that. And so that's why I do the work that I do. I work with folks in schools of education and schools of social work. I think that that's the only way that we get at this. So we start chipping away right. At some of the problems.
[00:33:50.360] - Steve Morreale
Yeah. We all bring something to the table which is important, and operate and use your term silo. I think you're absolutely right. Once we can break those down and break those barriers down, it makes for a better product or a better outcome, a better understanding. Very good. You have the last word. What do you say to people who are thinking about getting into either policing or criminal justice or into criminal justice education?
[00:34:11.470] - Melissa Morabito
Do it. I mean, we need more smart people. I think that if it's something that you love, it's never the wrong time to do it.
[00:34:17.250] - Steve Morreale
That's great. Well, thank you very much for taking the time and for joining us. I appreciate it. This is Steve Morreale. I've been talking to Melissa Morabito. She is a PhD, a doctor of criminal justice at UMass Lowell. Thank you so much for joining.
[00:34:30.540] - Melissa Morabito
No, thank you.
[00:34:31.260] - Steve Morreale
Have a good one. That's it. Another in the can for The CopDoc Podcast. I'm Steve Morreale. Appreciate you listening. Stand by for more episodes.
[00:34:40.330] - Outro
Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.