MTSU Magazine Winter 2021

Page 14


Modern Justice

Criminal Justice professor and former officer Ben Stickle tackles timely research topics such as porch piracy by Carol Stuart theft to analyze crime scripts—steps a criminal would take to steal delivered parcels—and recommend more effective practices to interrupt the thievery.

As a former law enforcement officer on the front lines, Associate Professor Ben Stickle readily recognizes research topics relevant to current crime trends and mentors MTSU students beginning to make their mark in the field. After his recent innovative work on the 21st-century problem of “porch piracy,” which was jumpstarted by and in collaboration with a student, Stickle studied new ways to look at changing patterns of crime during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such cutting-edge research exemplifies excellent efforts emanating from MTSU’s Department of Criminal Justice Administration (CJA). New labs, classrooms, and offices in the recently opened $39.6 million Academic Classroom Building give further impetus to scholarly achievement. “Having experience as a practitioner really is a lens that I view research through, because I’ve been out on the streets as a police officer and engaged in trying to catch criminals and prevent crime,” Stickle said. “My research is intended to be useful and helpful to practitioners, other researchers, and the public." The porch piracy research developed out of a mentoring relationship with master’s candidate Melody Hicks and the realization there was no scholarly research on the issue. Published in Criminal Justice Studies in 2019, the project studied YouTube videos of unattended package 14 MTSU Magazine

Publication has led to presentations in Estonia, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Nashville—and an invitation to a United Kingdom conference cancelled because of COVID-19. The study also ranks in the 99th percentile on a media attention scale for scholarly work, appearing in over 20 news outlets, on a couple of podcasts, and in articles Stickle authored for practitioners such as in Loss Prevention. Hicks was a co-author, along with University Studies math lecturer Amy Stickle (Stickle’s wife) and CJA undergraduate Zachary Hutchinson, plus completed her thesis on a separate project on package theft victimization that is under review for publication. During the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, Stickle ended up collaborating with worldrenowned criminologist Marcus Felson of Texas State University on another groundbreaking study, “Crime Rates in a Pandemic: The Largest Criminological Experiment in History." Some crime rates dropped significantly early on (such as home burglary, for instance), while others rocketed 50% higher (like retail burglary in places). Usually, criminologists and sociologists look at factors such as socioeconomics, gender, age, unemployment, and increase in stress, Stickle said. “None of that changed during the first few weeks of lockdown. What is it that changed, what we argue, are our routine activities that we do on a daily basis,” Stickle said. “So much of crime is based on routine activities.” Therefore, future studies should focus more on how and where people are, such as land usage and Google mobility data trends, than personal characteristics to help develop prevention methods, he said.

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