Criminal Justice Society earns Crimestoppers Award

Each year, hundreds of students in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have the opportunity to participate in the Criminal Justice Society student organization. One week they will visit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) offices in Columbus, OH. Next, they have numerous volunteer opportunities around campus.

 Susan Bourke spends time with a student during a tutoring session.

Criminal Justice Society advisor and professor Susan Bourke spends time with a student during lunch between a tutoring session. Photo/provided.

Housed within the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, the Criminal Justice (CJ) Society students, with roughly 900 general members, participate in numerous volunteer initiatives and sponsored activities. Several members also hold officer positions to help coordinate different opportunities. Throughout the year, CJ Society participates in several initiatives on and around campus from tutoring to crime prevention to community volunteering – just to name a few.

Professor Sue Bourke serves as the Faculty Adviser for CJ Society. She guides the student officers through their initiatives and coordinates other activities open to the membership. Throughout the year, these officers put in numerous hours volunteering and organizing events. Officers that have dedicated so much time include Foster Opals, Jack Fitzpatrick, Julian Burnett, Zoe DeWitt, Morgan Howell, and Grace Lefton. 

Student officers Morgan Howell and Grace Lefton both serve as co-chairs for community service – an experience that’s been impactful for them and the Cincinnati community, according to Howell, a fourth year Criminal Justice student. 

“[Grace and I] have both worked in the courthouse, so we’ve seen parents go through a lot of things which also has motivated us to [get involved],” says Howell. “If we see what their parents are doing then obviously the children need help.”

Knowing the statistics that show a direct correlation of kids with a high school degree go on to spend their life in jail really hits home, according to Lefton.

We’re lucky to have professors who have worked in the field and hear their stories of how they have made huge impacts on people. It’s hard for [this initiative] not to be infectious.

Grace Lefton

Crime Prevention Initiatives

Over the last 20 years, the CJ Society has worked with UC Police and the City of Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) to prevent crime on and around campus. CJ Society students canvas the community around campus each year to remind students to “put your junk in your trunk” and to lock their doors. Most of their work is completed by hanging tags on doors and placing flyers on cars. This work is all part of their Crime Stoppers initiative with the City of Cincinnati Police and UC Police Department.

To better organize canvassing events, the CJ Society works with officers from UC Police and Cincinnati Police including Captain Dave Hoffman, Officer Jim Vestring, Officer Carra Sparks (all of UC Police), and Captain Joe Richardson (of Cincinnati Police).

Due to his connection with the program and seeing the efforts by the CJ Society, Captain Joe Richardson (Criminal Justice, M.S. 2020) nominated the students for the Crime Prevention Award. Captain Richardson has served as an adjunct instructor in School of Criminal Justice along with working alongside Professor Sue Bourke and the CJ Society students. 

“Help from [the CJ society] is valuable because the police can’t handle everything around campus,” Richardson said. “There’s no way we could reach the nearly 48,000 [students] by ourselves, especially at that level.”

For the first time in CJ Society’s history, they were nominated for and awarded the Crime Stoppers “Crime Prevention Award.” This award recognizes any individual from the Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana area who has shown, through their volunteer service, a dedication to promoting safety and/or building stronger communities.

“The CJ Society was a natural fit [for the award],” says Captain Richardson. “Winning the award was a great way to acknowledge the great work that Sue has put into the CJ society.”

“It’s also really cool for us to see, [especially] as college kids, that we were able to have that impact, Lefton said. “People realize that we really are making an impact.”

Professor Bourke and Morgan attended the Crime Stoppers Awards Breakfast on October 11th to accept the award. In attendance were members from Channel 5 News and the speaker for the event was Kenneth Parker, U.S. Attorney for Southern Ohio.

[This award] feels like an honor. It’s definitely exciting and makes me want to keep doing more.

Morgan Howell

Following the banquet, the CJ Society further celebrated its award on campus. Crime Stoppers President and former UC Police Chief and Director of Public Safety, Gene Ferrara, presented the CJ Society with a beautiful glass trophy acknowledging their efforts over the last year. 

Community Initiatives

Students at Avondale Church sit down for lunch between tutoring sessions.

Students at Avondale Church sit down for lunch between tutoring sessions. Photo/provided.

In addition to Crime Stoppers, the CJ Society organizes volunteer events around the campus and city. 

Tutoring: In 2021 Morgan and Grace started a tutoring initiative at a church in Avondale. Studies reported on show that test scores at this school are far below the state average which suggests students are likely not performing at grade level. With this information, they reached out to Bishop Tait, Founder and Pastor at the Avondale Church, to learn how they could be involved.

“As Criminal Justice majors, we learn all the time about the direct correlation of kids who are not finishing high school and going on to spend their life in jails and prisons,” Grace said.

Throughout the year, 12-15 volunteers from the CJ Society visit Avondale once a week to tutor Kindergarten through 9th graders. Roughly 15-20 students attend to receive homework help or talk with a volunteer. The volunteers not only help students with homework but also serve as mentors and role models.

In the last year, volunteers have grown from five to roughly 15, and student attendance has increased from four to 15-20. When Grace and Morgan first started the tutoring initiative there were many hurdles and hoops to jump over and through.

“Bishop Tait had reached out to Sue in the past asking for volunteers and we reached back out to him,” Grace said. However, the message was hard to spread due to school system communications and the continued COVID presence.

Eventually, Pastor Bishop Tait set up a phone call with the principal to notify students and parents that the program existed. The bus route was another major hurdle as students must be proactive to attend sessions. The church is not directly located on a normal bus route, so students have to walk or ride a public bus.

Throughout the challenges Morgan and Grace never wavered, making sure to continue their sessions and spread the message through word-of-mouth. Now, students are excited to attend and not forced to participate.

Community: In November, the CJ Society volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and assisted building a house.

“I do not know how to build a house, but we worked with them to set up a time and registration and get our club certified to help out,” said Grace.

They also plan to volunteer at the Talbert House and assist in the “Dress for Success” initiative. The CJ Society is also coordinating with the Cincinnati Zoo to take their tutoring group to the Festival of Lights. They are also planning a coat drive that will take place at the Zoo.

What's Next?

Next steps for those that want to join? “Reach out!” said Morgan. Any student interested can reach out to Professor Bourke, Grace, Morgan, or any member of the CJ Society.

Email for Professor Sue Bourke: BOURKESA@UCMAIL.UC.EDU

More details are available about the CJ Society including what they do and how to join at CECH Criminal Justice Student Orgs.

To learn more about the School of Criminal Justice programs, click here.

Featured image at top of Students from the Criminal Justice Society on a prison tour in 2022. Photo provided by the Criminal Justice Society. 

Headshot of Story by Sabrina Thiel Gilliland

Story by Sabrina Thiel Gilliland

Assoc. Director of Marketing and Publications, CECH Marketing Services

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