Focusing on Crime in Houston

Yung-lien (Edward) Lai spent 10 years as a correction officer in Taiwan before coming to the United States as a graduate student at the College of Criminal Justice. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jihong (Solomon) Zhao, he hopes to earn his Ph.D. and return to his native country to teach in the Central Policing University.

"I am so lucky to get in the program, and I appreciate Sam Houston State University," said Lai. "It is a good environment to conduct research and to get the funding to support life. There is a lot of good professors to work on papers with them."

Zhao and Lai have collaborated on three research papers on public attitudes towards police in China and Taiwan and public perceptions of police and fear of crime in Houston, Texas. Two of the papers have been published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, while the third on fear of burglary in Houston is undergoing peer review.

Using crime data collected by Drs. Dennis Longmire, Ling Ren and Zhao and the College's Police Research Center's Major Cities Project two resident surveys of 1,200 to 1,800 people each, Zhao and Lai have presented two studies on public attitudes toward police and crime in Houston. Dr. Dennis Longmire also contributed to the research.

The first study looked at residents' attitude toward police in Houston and was published in the Journal this year. The research found that African-American residents had the lowest level of satisfaction and confidence in police across the city, with Hispanic residents demonstrating half the level of confidence in law enforcement of the African American population.

The research also found that attitudes improved with concentrated police work in neighborhood.

"Good police work in their neighborhoods will improve attitudes towards police," Zhao said.

A second study looked at public attitude toward crime and whether there was a correlation between proximity to specific criminal offenses and public fear of that crime. While there were no changes in fear levels for violent crimes, the fear of burglary increased as reports of that offense struck closer to home.

"Residents are fully aware of what is happening in their neighborhoods, and they can tell the type of crime," said Lai.

To combat fear of burglary, the Houston Police Department may need more emphasis on public crime prevention education and to make use of specialized units to address specific crimes, Zhao said.

Finally, Zhao and Lai researched public confidence in police in China and Taiwan. While the two countries were a single entity 60 years ago, China remains a totalitarian nation and Taiwan became a democracy 15 years ago.

The study found that people in China have more confidence in their police than residents of Taiwan. Zhao said previous studies show the more totalitarian the society, the higher approval levels are of police. As countries move toward democracy, attitudes toward police decline.

Zhao said that in totalitarian regimes, the media and information is often controlled and only some information is provided about crime. In democratic countries, more negative information is available about crime, and public approval declines.

Lai, a Ph.D. candidate, said he is grateful for the mentorship providing by Dr. Zhao. He credits the professor with teaching him how to organize an academic paper; collecting and organizing articles and other studies; and providing intensive interaction to push students to find answers and to achieve their goals.

Zhao said it is important to keep an open mind during the process and to let students take the initiative.

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