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Summaries of RCT Grants

Randomized controlled trial of Project SCOPE – a police co-responder model, aimed at diverting vulnerable populations from criminal arrest within the transit system

This project is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Project SCOPE: Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnership, Engagement, being implemented by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) and SEPTA Police Department (SEPTA PD) in the Philadelphia transit system.

Grantee: Drexel University

Principal Investigators:

Jordan M. Hyatt, Ph.D., Drexel University

Robert J. Kane, Ph.D., Drexel University

Term: 2022 – 2025 

Funding: $499,153

Summary: This project is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Project SCOPE: Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnership, Engagement, being implemented by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) and SEPTA Police Department (SEPTA PD) in the Philadelphia transit system. Project SCOPE uses a modified co-responder model wherein social service workers are deployed in coordination with SEPTA PD to independently engage individuals who appear to need social service resources such as those experiencing homelessness or those with substance use or mental health issues. The independent engagement by social outreach workers potentially limits conflict that may be generated by immediate police involvement. The main responsibilities of the social outreach workers are to defuse challenging public safety situations, offer limited services and provide referrals, as well as transportation as needed, to people within the transit system. Project SCOPE aims to divert vulnerable individuals away from arrest and subsequent criminal justice involvement while maintaining public safety within the SEPTA transit system. 

Project SCOPE has not yet been rigorously evaluated, and its impact is not known. Evaluations of traditional co-responder models (which have police officers and outreach workers deployed together) have produced suggestive positive impacts, but such evidence is limited by methodological weaknesses. Despite the limited evidence base, several police departments across the United States have implemented – or are considering implementing – similar co-responder programs for persons experiencing mental health and other crises that affect individual and public safety. A well-conducted RCT of Project SCOPE will contribute important evidence to the current policy discussions around effective alternatives to traditional policing.

This RCT will randomly assign approximately 720 six-day police shifts across seven high-risk transit stations in Philadelphia to either a treatment condition that would employ both SEPTA PD and SCOPE personnel operating independently, or to a control condition that would employ the usual SEPTA PD patrols without a social worker. The two primary outcomes will be the percentage of contacts that result in criminal citations issued by SEPTA PD and the percentage that result in referrals to social services, as measured over an 18-month period with administrative data from the SEPTA and Philadelphia Police Departments. Secondary analyses will also examine possible displacement of crime to areas surrounding SEPTA stations.

While the study will be unable to measure individual-level outcomes, it will evaluate the impact of SCOPE on public safety outcomes (e.g. criminal citations) within the SEPTA system during the intervention period. It would be important for future studies, with complementary methodologies, to be designed to answer other important policy questions regarding the effectiveness of co-responder programs on the vulnerable individuals themselves.

The study’s pre-specified analysis plan will be posted shortly.

Grants

Arnold Ventures funds projects to understand problems and identify policy solutions.

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