This semester marks the beginning of Megan Quattlebaum’s term as program director of Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory — a branch of the Justice Department’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on Sept. 18.

The Justice Collaboratory serves as an umbrella organization for Yale’s participation in the initiative, a $4.75 million three-year grant to implement a reform program for community-police engagement in five pilot cities around the country. The initiative also includes related programming at YLS, such as a conference on police issues this spring. The consortium that received the grant includes two YLS professors, Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler, in addition to experts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA and the Urban Institute. The initiative has a board of advisors that includes law enforcement experts, academics and civil rights advocates.

Quattlebaum — who was previously a senior research fellow at the law school — said that while the nationwide initiative was announced in September 2014, the Justice Collaboratory’s work will begin in earnest this semester. At present, researchers are selecting the five pilot cities, which should be decided upon by mid-spring. Quattlebaum said she hopes the researchers will be able to apply their theoretical knowledge on the ground and have a beneficial impact on the pilot sites.

“We hope that interventions will make a positive influence in decreasing use of force and increasing officer safety,” Quattlebaum said.

Co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA Tracie Keesee, who is also working on the initiative, said that although the “core of the inspiration” for this initiative was Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo. last summer, race relations will be only one component of what the pilot program examines. In addition, she said researchers will look at different kinds of subpopulations and their relationships to the police, including the LGBTQ and Latino communities. She also said that it will be important for the lessons learned from the pilot program to be applicable to other police departments.

Quattlebaum added that the team is looking for cities that are different from one another, especially in size, but that also have the potential to demonstrate progress in community-police relations over the next few years.

“Some people think we’re picking cities where we think the problems are the worst and that’s not the case,” Quattlebaum said. “We think that most American cities have struggled with police-community relations, and we’re looking for places where there are all too common problems where we can make some change over the next three years.”

Looking forward, Sociology professor Andrew Papachristos, who is involved in the research, said the goal of this project is ultimately scientific. He said that too often policy is crafted around statistics that are merely convenient, but this project aims to provide accurate figures and information around which policymakers can craft effective reforms.

Urban Institute Senior Research Associate Jocelyn Fontaine, who is participating in the initiative, said the project is in too early a stage to assess its challenges. However, she noted that she has found the pilot project format fruitful in previous research, because it enables researchers to correct potential issues with reforms while in the pilot stage and before they have been applied to too many cities.

But Cara McClellan LAW ’15, who is a research assistant for the collaborative, said the greatest trial the researchers face may be implementing these policies in the urban setting.

“It’s always a challenge having a researcher coming in and telling you what to do,” she said.