Being smart on crime by being smarter on people

Alex Piquero is the new Chair of the College's Sociology Department.
alex piquero

Alex A. Piquero, an award-winning teacher with over 25 years of experience in criminology and criminal justice, is the new Chair for the Sociology Department this fall. His work focuses on many topics within the realm of criminology, from the relationship between immigration and crime to evidence-based crime prevention programs, police use of force, life-course patterns of criminal offending, as well as issues surrounding race and social issues like the NFL players’ protests during the U.S. national anthem, crime rates among NFL players, and most recently, changes in crime patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piquero is also the Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar for the College of Arts and Sciences. He talked with A&S News about his scholarship and passion in criminology, his mentors, and his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Division of Developmental & Life-Course Criminology of the America Society of Criminology.

A&S NEWS: As the new Chair of the Sociology Department, what goals or objectives do you have set?

PIQUERO: First and foremost, this is a challenging period in higher education and in our society more generally. COVID-19 has altered the traditional college experience, both academically and socially. There is nothing more rewarding than teaching in a classroom and working directly with students in-person. Working with my departmental colleagues, the administration of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the University of Miami more generally, my efforts will be centered on doing all I can to make this uncertain period just a bit more certain as we all seek to excel in our teaching and mentoring mission.

In society more generally, we are seeing a confluence of injustices and inequalities brought to the fore with respect to social, health, and racial/ethnic issues. I will work to support the important work that my colleagues are doing in these areas and do what I can to get their research into the community, media, practitioners, and policymakers more generally, so that public policies are grounded in the most up-to-date objective science possible.

A&S NEWS: What drew you to criminology and criminal justice?

PIQUERO: Originally, I was a radio/television/film major during my first semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland College Park. During the spring semester of my freshman year, I took an Introduction to Criminal Justice course taught by Dr. Laure Brooks, who is the reason I changed majors and set a new path toward criminolgy. Her enthusiasm for the topic and her willingness to bring me onto a research project (assessing attitudes among police officers) changed my life. I continued my academic career in graduate school and studied under one of the world’s foremost criminologists, Dr. Ray Paternoster...and the rest, they say, is history.

A&S NEWS: What led you to this position as Chair and what does it mean to be an Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar?

PIQUERO: I have had a long relationship with the department. I have given several talks over the course of my career here and have long been impressed with the important work that the faculty have produced. Aside from the department’s stature and the wonderful colleagues within it, sociology is a well-respected unit within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The University of Miami is excellent and only getting better, and it wants to help solve the important and pressing matters facing our society—our unit is poised to do just that. As for being recognized as an Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar, it is truly an honor that Dean Bachas and Provost Duerk provided me with this prestigious recognition. This recognition is a platform of sorts. As such, I must continue to embody excellence in teaching, research, and service as well as continue my public engagement with my research and supporting my colleagues in sociology, the College, and the University. As Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar, the College and the University are looking to me to provide leadership in many respects, and I will be at the ready to serve in whatever capacities they see fit.

A&S NEWS: You recently were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Division of Developmental & Life-Course Criminology of the American Society of Criminology, and you have other accolades under your belt. What does this recent honor mean to you?

PIQUERO: The many research, teaching, mentoring, and service awards I have received over the course of my career speak more to the mentoring I received in graduate school, the great colleagues and students I have worked with, and to my family for their sacrifices and support they have made to allow me to do what I do.

This most recent Lifetime Achievement Award, however, is especially rewarding because the individuals who have received it previously are those individuals whom I have tried to model my career after—not only as scholars but as people. That my recommenders and the committee saw it fitting that I belonged among such an elite group is humbling beyond words.

A&S NEWS: Who are your most influential mentors?

PIQUERO: Dr. Laure Brooks, who was my first criminal justice professor, and my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Ray Paternoster; the Chair of the University of Maryland Criminology Department, Charles Wellford, has also been instrumental in my career. My parents, of course. I would not have had the educational experience I received without their sacrifice, support, and love. I also have had the honor of being mentored by the most esteemed scholars and fortunate to have written with them including: Al Blumstein, Frank Cullen, Scott Decker, Jeff Fagan, David Farrington, Temi Moffitt, Dan Nagin, and Larry Steinberg, just to name a few.

I obviously need to say that in many ways, my wife, Dr. Nicole Leeper Piquero, who is also joining the Department of Sociology as a professor and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, is also a mentor. She is an excellent sounding board and often provides the kind of critical feedback I need.

A&S NEWS: What studies/research are you currently working on?

PIQUERO: I am involved in a number of studies in the U.S. and in Australia that are exploring potentially adverse effects of stay-at-home and social distancing orders on changes in crime rates during COVID-19. I continue a range of studies on issues within life-course criminology and have started several projects with colleagues here including one on implicit/explicit racial bias among police officers. Finally, I am working on a project for the Arnold Foundation on non-law enforcement solutions to crime throughout the U.S. I also frequently engage with the public and the media on various issues within criminal justice, especially centered on violence, crime trends, policing, and race/ethnicity and crime.

A&S NEWS: Will you be teaching in the fall, and if so, can you talk about your teaching approaches?

PIQUERO: I will be teaching criminal justice this fall at the undergraduate level. It is a survey course designed to introduce students to the criminal justice system, its varying components, and today’s pressing issues that are in need of desperate attention.