WCU professors help neighboring counties with violence study

Recently, a $10,000 grant for analyzing and gathering crime data was awarded to Dr. Phyllis Robertson, an assistant professor in the department of human services, along with Dr. Alvin Malesky, an associate professor in Western Carolina University’s psychology department. Assisting in this study with Robertson and Malesky is Dr. Russell Binkley, an assistant professor in WCU’s education department and Julie Cummins, a graduate assistant.

Initially, Dr. Robertson was invited to study the end results of an intervention program in Buncombe County.

“I was approached by a counseling agency in Buncombe County to study the outcomes of an intervention program working with juvenile offenders,” Robertson said.

Robertson also reviewed the guidelines from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and upon receipt of a state-funded grant, contracted with Buncombe County. From the conversation with the Buncombe County intervention agency, the team was also asked to conduct an assessment by Haywood County’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, of the gang activity in their area.

During the process, Dr. Malesky “communicated an interest in co-investigating,” said Robertson. She also consulted with Dr. Binkley about “his interest in helping with the analysis of qualitative responses.” Cummins, her graduate assistant was critical in coordinating the online surveys used to create the data. The end results of the initial survey were meant to “provide law enforcement, schools and community agencies with much need information about gang activity in the Buncombe County area,” said Robertson.

For the survey, Robertson and her team will gather data on gang violence.

“The formal assessment includes gathering law enforcement data on gang activity,” Robertson said. The team will also search for, “perceptual data from community leaders, students, school personnel, residents and inventorying agency services for juveniles.” Along with the online survey material, interviews will also be conducted with representatives of each of the groups above.

Asheville is also the largest suburban area in Western North Carolina. Gang activity is often common in large urban areas. Robertson hopes that the assessments will serve Asheville and surrounding counties.

“By assessing the present gang activity and perceptions among community stakeholders we can create a baseline, by which future program grants can be justified and future studies compared.”

Robertson is also the pinpoint of the project.

“I am the principal investigator and report directly to the JCPC Gang Assessment Coordinator in each county,” she said.

Robertson’s team has just began to conduct the survey in Haywood County (from the grant), but have completed an initial report for Buncombe County that will be finished in September.

The final focus of the project is positive.

“It is through the cooperation of JCPC members, community residents, school students, and personnel and the agencies that serve our youth that we have been able to collect a representative reflection of gang activity in the area,” says Robertson.