The University of Toledo – Research News

Archive for December, 2012

Predicting Violence

“Domestic violence is the most prevalent crime that police come in contact with and is the number one source of violent crime against women and children,” says Richard Johnson, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice. In one year 1.3 million women in the U.S. are physically assaulted by a spouse or intimate partner; of the 3,800 women murdered annually, 33 percent are the result of domestic violence. Further, domestic violence contributes to other crimes–the vast majority of inmates in U.S. prisons grew up in abusive environments.

In an attempt to understand what happens in domestic violence calls, Johnson has pursued three general lines of inquiry: the likelihood of assault on a police officer, analysis of firearms incidences and the possibility of predicting a physical assault on an officer.

Domestic violence is the crime that police officers encounter most often, Johnson notes. In the late 60s, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it was the most dangerous call a police officer could make. But there were no data. Studies conducted in the 80s found that statement not to be true (because the databases of the time did not separate the types of calls); academicians thus began to play down the dangers of domestic violence. The problem was, even if domestic violence was third or fourth on the list (after ambush, robberies and traffic stops), it was still dangerous and still the cause of police deaths.  When he examined the data, he found that, from 1980 through 2006, 514,711 officer assaults occurred nationally. By extrapolating from other research, Johnson was able to calculate that domestic violence is the cause of 113,236 officer assaults. That statistic, if correct, means that 4,194 assaults occur each year on officers handling domestic violence cases. “Clearly,” he says, “domestic violence calls are not danger free.”

Further, Johnson notes, whereas officer murders have decreased for a number of reasons (better protective gear, better training, better weaponry), he found that officer survival statistics in domestic violence cases have remained stable. When he analyzed FBI data and searched newspaper accounts for the years 1999 through 2003, he found 143 firearm assaults on 225 officers responding to domestic violence calls. Of those, at least one officer was wounded in 67 of the incidents and one officer killed in 27.

To determine survival characteristics in domestic violence cases, Johnson analyzed the 143 firearm assaults as to the day of week, time of day, place, type of weapon, presence of witnesses, offender background, and officer behavior. He found that survival was mostly under officer control—in particular, was the officer wearing body armor.  Johnson also found that officers are twice as likely to survive an attack with every yard distant from the shooter; officers are also twice as likely to survive if they are able to return fire.

Johnson subsequently wanted to determine if he could use existing data to predict officer assaults. What are the characteristics of domestic violence calls that lead to assaults on officers? When he examined assailant characteristics, he found a one in four chance of assault if five distinct variables were present: (1) unemployment, (2) residence with the victim, (3) alcohol use (drugs seem not to be an issue), (4) property damage, and (5) hostile demeanor. If none of those characteristics were present, no assault occurred in any of the cases in the study.

These results led Johnson to develop a training presentation to help law enforcement officers screen calls for the level of danger. Dispatchers can be trained to collect details from the caller. The presentation has been mailed to all police departments in the Midwest that employ 500 or more officers. Several states have incorporated the presentation into in-service training on a statewide basis and several municipalities have also independently adopted the program.

“It’s important to remember,” Johnson says, “that even though domestic violence does not result as many assaults and murders as some other police duties, it still presents dangers. We need to do anything we can to predict a dangerous situation and save lives.”



Johnson became interested in police encounters with domestic violence as a consequence of his service as first a patrol officer, then a probation officer and finally a criminal investigator assigned to child sexual assault cases. “It took an emotional toll,” he says. Since he enjoyed teaching and writing and had taught at a community college and written for police journals, he decided academic life would suit.

Who’s in Your Neighborhood?

Where do members of different ethnic and racial groups choose to settle and where do they buy land and houses when they become mobile and middle class?  Is upward mobility inevitably linked to ethnic and racial discord and conflict?

Although he started out looking at immigration and ethnic history, Todd Michney became interested in black neighborhoods on the urban periphery. Most historians have focused on large, segregated inner city neighborhoods where a majority of the black population lived before World War II, but Michney takes a different approach. He noticed that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe—mostly Italians and Jews—interacted with African-Americans, settling in many of the same neighborhoods in outlying areas. “There didn’t seem to be nearly as antagonistic a pattern of race relations that others had identified,” he said and wondered what was going on.

The turn of the 20th century and into the 40s saw a growing black middle class and the beginnings of the suburban dream. African-Americans who were upwardly mobile sought a higher quality of life and better living conditions. They steadily started moving out of inner city areas. “Even working class individuals went to the periphery to buy land cheaper and build homes—sometimes room by room,” Michney says. “I felt I started to uncover a whole world that didn’t fit.”

Upon examining residential patterns of the 50s and 60s, Michney says he found that all-white, middle-class ethnic neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio were “threatened” not so much by African-Americans moving in as by ethnic residents moving out. As Jewish and Italian residents achieved higher economic status and moved to outlying suburbs, their departure provided the opportunity for middle class African-Americans to improve their living conditions by moving into vacated properties.  While there was some racial tension and isolated conflicts relating especially to swimming pool access, whites in these areas moved away much more slowly than has been recognized and some developed friendly relations with their new black neighbors in the meantime.  But as whites continued to move further and further out, African Americans, sharing the same aspirations, followed suit.

During this later period, Michney says that intraracial conflicts arose over maintaining a reasonable quality of life in those neighborhoods that were largely African-American. As whites moved out and less affluent blacks moved in, conflicts developed over housing upkeep, how available liquor should be, overcrowding, schools, and commerce. “One really interesting pattern I am not sure I can explain is the scapegoating of southern black migrants,” Michney adds. Even though most African-Americans suburbanites were only one or two generations removed from the South, they started to place blame, saying that rural southerners did not know how to live in an urban setting. “This occurred despite the fact that most of the new black residents came from urban areas and had jobs and stable families,” notes Michney.

“We have to rethink our assumptions about how residential patterns were shaped in the early 20th century,” says Michney. The claim was that African-Americans moving into an area would cause property values to decline; they would bring in crime; they would not keep up their property. But from the perspective of the African-Americans, they were seeking good housing and good living standards—all the same goals as the white residents. “Whites did not give the African-Americans a chance in the 50s to see how they would really fit in,” Michney comments. Ironically, then, fears of losing one’s investment led whites residents ultimately to move away, even in those instances when their encounters with incoming African American residents had been benign.

In the early twentieth century, African-American Clevelanders generally lived in compact areas but in close proximity to Czech, Italian and Jewish immigrants. Their children all went to the same schools. Michney says that most of the black and white former residents he interviewed talked about friendly neighborly exchange, even though historians have emphasized that immigrants, who were not initially viewed as white, basically had to adopt an anti-African-American attitude to be accepted by the larger white population.

What historians have often seen as the problem and how indigenous residents assessed the situation were not the same, Michney explains. A shrinking industrial base in cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit created a competition for jobs and economic insecurity made it harder for people to maintain their housing stock. Banks were less likely to lend to blacks and shopping malls moved further out. That is an important part of the story but not how residents typically imagined their situation, he says. Local residents were concerned with maintaining the livability of the neighborhoods—by cutting off the easy source of liquor, starting their own local businesses, and keeping money in the community.

The Community Council movement, which tried to bring together people from different backgrounds starting in the 40s, has received little press, Michney notes. These councils were somewhat successful, noting that Jews were more open to the idea, Catholics less so. “Jews were more willing to participate in the dialogue, but since they tended to be more upwardly mobile they often moved away sooner,” he says. Catholics on the other hand were less open and typically sent their children to parochial schools, although Michney found some of these desegregated before the 60s. Several observers actually noted that desegregation tended to alleviate racial tensions, especially between Italians and blacks. “In fact,” Michney states, “there was often more tension between the various white ethnic groups than between blacks and whites.”

“Racial conflicts are less now,” Michney says,” but we still see some of the same sort of reasoning on when and where to move. Today the African-American community remains split with the middle class doing quite well up until this last recession. Working class and poor blacks are increasingly alienated with some as frustrated as in the 60s. Ancestry is not destiny, but there is still a glimmer of those patterns.”


Todd Michney is an assistant professor of history. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He specializes in African-American history, urban history, race, ethnicity and labor. His upcoming book, Changing Neighborhoods: Black Upward Mobility in Twentieth-Century Cleveland, is a citywide study of the city’s black middle class. He anticipates using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to represent statistical data and settlement patterns in strikingly new and innovative ways.

A Few Good Women

French Couple

French literature, film, feminism, women’s studies—connections. Ruth Hottell is constantly on the lookout for connections between French literature and other topics. But as a student of French culture, she has gravitated to film. “There is no better way of showing culture than by film. The images are there,” she remarks.

Because of her love for both French and classic movies, Hottell initially was interested in the “fantastic,” loosely defined as an occurrence that creates confusion about its reality—think Hitchcock’s Vertigo. As she delved deeper into these tales, she began to analyze the underlying structure and discovered that women were generally treated as objects and had largely stereotyped roles—the temptress, the perfect housewife, the poor visitor, the wicked or evil one, the saint.

Trained as a structuralist, Hottell took film courses to learn the intricacies of creating film so that she could then dissect it with the practitioner’s expertise, peeling the different layers apart from the varying perspectives of language, grammar, scenery, costume, storyline. Once she has taken the building blocks apart, she can ask, “Now what do I have?” This is what Hottell calls engaged criticism, which involves breaking the text apart and looking for something: How does the film look at people? Does it “foreground” minor characters?

Using her background, training and personal interests, Hottell began looking at film through the lens of feminism and French post-colonialism. How does film portray women and culture and how does that portrayal change over time?

Women filmmakers are outside the mainstream of the dominant male culture, Hottell explains. As the “other,” they push to change the status quo. She finds that these women tend to treat all characters more equally. “Minor characters are more complex than they often are in men’s work,” she says, “and without regard to whether the character is male or female.”

Women also articulate the subject differently, Hottell continues. She has examined the work of several female francophone filmmakers, paying particular attention to Agnes Varda, who herself said that she films like a woman because she is a woman.  Hottell thus set out to explore more deeply what it means to “film like a woman.”  Along the way, she is also looking to see the effects of French colonialism on the work of these women and whether or not colonialism has a continuing impact.

“Mainstream narrative works on all levels to present the white male perspective as the norm,” Hottell comments. Theorist, educator and scholar bell hooks (yes, her name is spelled in all lowercase) once said, “Any artist whose politics lead him or her to oppose imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, white supremacy, and the everyday racism that abounds in all our lives would endeavor to create images that do not perpetuate and sustain domination and exploitation.” Hottell notes, “To seek alternatives to repressive representation, one must first understand how mainstream cinema manipulates images.” She says that other feminist film theorists have noted the need to expose the “glossiness of the finished text, the attractive trappings of how things are presented, and the mask of what is being said along with its ideology.” Only then, Hottell says, can critics and filmmakers seek expression of the “other’s” discourse in film.

Several Francophone filmmakers have set out to answer their own critical voices, but in doing so have “reinvented narrative pleasure in such a way as to include what the mainstream would exclude.” Artists and scholars such as Laura Mulvey, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Marguerite Duras and Chantal Akerman have taken different approaches, but all have given voice to the gendered, racial and ethnic “other.”

Hottell says that Agnes Varda “provides concrete examples and models that are strong practical applications of the concept of inclusive spectatorship.” In Le Bonheur, Varda “visually and narratively reformulates romantic paradigms to insert the gendered presence.” In fact, Hottell adds, “Le Bonheur is a subtle satire that exposes the hypocrisy of the system.”  Ironically, Hottell comments that many critics did not understand the subtlety of the film and even denounced what they considered its acceptance of the patriarchal model. Despite these criticisms, Hottell says they did generally realize that the film was not a simple fiction film but intended instead to elicit audience reaction and draw them into the cinematic world.

As her art developed, Varda produced L’Une chante, l’autre pas a few years later.  Hottell describes that film as “a fictional world in which women—and their friends, communities, problems and joys—become the central focus of the narrative.” Women’s stories permeate the entire film; Varda herself even enters it as the voice-over in the prologue. The film highlights two women, who remain very close despite their differences. Hottell says that the differences—indicated in the title of the film: one sings while the other does not—are a contradiction that is not one. “Varda’s cinécriture embraces difference and evinces an understanding of contradictions between self and other,” she says.

One critic has noted that Varda was more interested in questions than answers. Hottell remarks, “Applying Varda’s questions to films that pinpoint issues of race, ethnicity and class could be a way to meet the need for discussion of various kinds of marginalization.  Thus can film unite issues of race, class and gender in cooperative, engaged practices.”

Ruth Hottell

Ruth Hottell, professor of French and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages, holds a Ph.D. in Expanded French Studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  The author of numerous articles on a variety of topics within French studies, she has taught and conducted research at the University of Toledo since 1988.  Hottell has earned an international reputation, particularly within French film studies and Francophone women filmmakers; her scholarly standing has been enhanced further in the last few years by the publication of three highly-acclaimed books.