Breaking barriers: Dr. Eric L. Piza's evolution from an undergrad researcher to open access crusader in crime analysis and policing

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Tue Jan 16 2024

Author: Guest contributor

As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, Dr. Eric L. Piza stumbled upon an opportunity that would shape his career trajectory: a flier for research assistant positions at the Police Institute, under the guidance of Professor George Kelling. Little did he know that this experience would discover a world of collaborative problem-solving, crime analysis, and research that would become the cornerstone of his professional life. Learn more about Dr. Piza's perspectives on the transformative power of open access (OA), his experiences with OA publishing agreements, and the pivotal role he envisions for research in promoting social justice and influencing public dialogue.

Tell us about yourself and your background?

I first became interested in criminal justice research by happenstance. I was an undergraduate student at Rutgers University and I saw a flier for research assistant positions at an on-campus research center called the Police Institute, run by Professor George Kelling. I had some gaps in my schedule and figured I may as well get paid while waiting for my next class to start. I was hired, and working at the Police Institute introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed. The Police Institute worked closely with community groups, social service providers, and police agencies for the purposes of identifying, analyzing, and addressing public safety issues through collaborative problem solving. Crime analysis and research were central to this effort. This made me realize that access to data and the free communication of analytical findings had tremendous potential for promoting public safety. I had no idea “police research” or “crime analysis” existed before then. Without a doubt, there’s no chance I’m doing what I currently do for a living if I didn’t cross paths with George Kelling. I draw a direct line between my undergraduate research assistant position at the Police Institute and my current role as Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. 

What is the focus of your research? 

My research focuses on evidence-based policing, with a focus on the role of spatial analysis and technology in crime prevention. I am an applied researcher, in the sense that most of my work aims to generate research findings that can have an impact on real-world criminal justice practices. Most of my research projects involve direct partnerships with public safety agencies. I have active research partnerships with the Kansas City (MO) Police Department, Manchester (NH) Police Department, Paterson (NJ) Police Department, and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. I’ve previously worked with multiple other police agencies around the United States. I try to emphasize the “applied” aspect of my work throughout the entire research process. This includes the reporting and dissemination of research findings. Research results locked behind a paywall do less good than research results that are publicly accessible. For research to be “applied” it needs to be accessible by the practitioners and community organizations responsible for promoting public safety. In support of this goal, I am proud that the Northeastern University Center for Crime, Race, and Justice (NUCCRJ) is a founding member of the CrimRxiv Consortium. CrimRxiv is Criminology’s OA repository that aims to share OA versions of as much of the field’s research articles as possible. As a founding member of the consortium, NUCCRJ maintains a hosted collection of OA research of affiliated faculty.

You are very keen on driving OA forward, could you tell us where this drive is coming from? And what are the key indicators that make you choose publishing OA?

Research is a public good. Therefore, I think that the public should have access to my work. This is especially the case given that a good portion of my research has been funded by federal grants. Taking taxpayer money to do research while exclusively publishing the research results behind a paywall feels wrong to me. Academics like to say that public policy should be based on the scientific evidence. If academics don’t make their research OA, then we aren’t holding up to our end of the bargain. In fact, we’re being hypocrites by expecting policymakers to engage with the science while not ensuring they actually have access to the science. 

Northeastern University has an OA agreement with Springer Nature, could you tell us how you became aware of this and about your experience publishing under this agreement? 

I learned about the OA agreement through an email from my School’s Director. I then reached out to Amy Lewontin at the Northeastern University library to learn more. Amy’s been a tremendous help in helping faculty take advantage of the OA agreement. Publishing OA with Springer Nature was also incredibly straightforward. The articles were specified OA once I verified my institutional affiliation. 

Did you experience a difference in publishing OA from a time before the OA agreement was in place? If so, what are the main benefits of publishing OA under an agreement compared to publishing OA without an OA agreement?

Prior to the OA agreement, I made my article post prints accessible through Green OA. When funds are not available for Gold OA, Green OA is a viable alternative. While post prints lack the formatting and copyediting of the version of record, they are substantively the same. Therefore, there is no good reason why all articles cannot be made OA, in some fashion. My colleague, Scott Jacques and I speak about this issue in detail here

How do you think OA publishing can contribute to SDG16 and what results have you seen for your published work? What would be the key benefits for SDG16 in your opinion? 

OA helps promote social justice by making sure that everyone has access to research, regardless of their personal or institutional funding situation. This seems to align with the mission of SDG16. 

How would you define societal impact when it comes to research? What support do you feel is needed for researchers to maximize the societal impact of their work and what role does OA play in that?

I define societal impact in terms of influencing the public dialogue. Citation counts and impact factors are important, but I think research has the greatest impact when it can be accessed, digested, and discussed by all members of the public.

I think more education around the process and polices of OA is important. I find that not many researchers understand the different models of OA and the legal copyright privileges they have as authors. This prevents researchers from taking full advantage of OA publishing.

What would your advice be to others thinking of publishing OA, especially when their research is relevant to the SDGs?

The first step is for authors to commit to OA and make sure all of their work is publicly available, in some format. The second step is for institutions to organize the OA work of their employees so that it’s easily discovered by the public. These are the operating principles behind NUCCRJ’s CrimRxiv hosted collection

If your institution has OA agreements with publishers, use them. Maximize your institution’s investment in OA by actively participating in OA publishing. If your institution does not have funding for Gold OA, then make the article post prints available through Green OA. Green OA is free for both authors and readers, when Gold OA isn’t feasible. In addition, faculty members should also get to know their librarians better. Librarians have an incredible wealth of knowledge on different publishing models and knowledge dissemination. They can help faculty maximize the reach of their work. 

About Author
Professor Eric L. Piza © Springer Nature 2023

Eric L. Piza, Ph.D.
Director of Crime Analysis Initiatives 
Co-Director, Crime Prevention Lab
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice 
College of Social Sciences and Humanities 
Northeastern University

Eric L. Piza, Ph.D. is Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. His research focuses on the spatial analysis of crime patterns, evidence-based policing, and crime control technology. Before entering academia, Dr. Piza served as the GIS Specialist of the Newark, New Jersey Police Department, responsible for the day-to-day crime analysis and program evaluation activities of the agency. He received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. 


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