The Public Safety Institute (PSI) at the University of Memphis is an interdisciplinary part of the university community. It is committed to identifying and advancing best practices in the field of public safety by focusing on engaged research with practical applications.
The PSI is housed in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy (SUAPP), with Executive Director Bill Gibbons reporting directly to Interim Dean Gary Emmert of the College of Arts and Sciences in which SUAPP resides.
The PSI is funded in part through a partnership with the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, a private non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a 50-member board of directors that serves as a leadership team for reducing crime in Memphis and Shelby County. The board is comprised of top leaders in law enforcement, criminal justice, business, government, the non-profit community, and the faith community. The primary mission of the Crime Commission is to spearhead development of a plan (the Safe Community Plan) to significantly improve public safety in the Memphis area, manage the hard work of galvanizing diverse leaders and stakeholders in the implementation and support of the plan, and measure the results.
Through its partnership, the Institute is fulfilling a need in the Memphis community to:
- Identify evidence based and evidence informed practices and solutions and generally bring a deep expertise to problem solving in the areas of crime prevention, intervention and reduction,
- Publish and analyze local crime statistics and trends,
- Help define and execute an applied research agenda tied to the local Safe Community Plan, and
- Organize forums and symposia to promote thoughtful leadership and discussion to improve practices related to crime and public safety.
The Institute also conducts research independent of the partnership with the Crime Commission. It is involved in applied research through grants in a broad range of criminal justice areas, including:
- The availability of services to domestic violence victims in the Memphis area,
- Evaluation of the Shelby County Mental Health Court,
- Evaluation of a number of efforts to combat opioid addiction, and
- Analysis of law enforcement efforts to curtail and solve crimes involving guns.
Gibbons served as district attorney for Shelby County from 1996-2011. In 2011, he became a member of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. He also chaired for the governor a public safety sub-cabinet, which was charged with developing and implementing the governor's Public Safety Action Plan. He left the governor's cabinet at the end of August in 2016 to assume his responsibilities at the University. As part of the arrangement with the Crime Commission to help insure a seamless research -practice partnership, Gibbons is serving as Commission president as well. Gibbons also serves on the steering committee of Governor Bill Lee's Criminal Justice Investment Task Force.
Dr. Amaia Iratzoqui, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, serves as the Public Safety Institute’s research director.
Linda Russell serves an executive assistant for the PSI. In addition to working previously in the Shelby County D.A.'s office, Russell served as the key staff assistant to Governor Haslam's public safety sub-cabinet. Under the arrangement with the Crime Commission, she also serves as vice president for communications and development for the Commission.
Having received his master's degree in criminology from the University at Memphis, Max Helms serves as a senior research assistant to the Institute.