Renee Mitchell, centre, and friends at a formal hall dinner

Criminology at Cambridge sparks collaboration

Renee Mitchell (Criminology 2012) completed a PhD at Fitzwilliam. She is a co-founder of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing.

What brought you to Fitzwilliam?

I was in the PhD programme through Larry Sherman (Professor Lawrence Sherman, Director, Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology). They had three colleges assigned to the programme and Fitzwilliam was one of them. Larry guided us where we should go and Fitz was very supportive of the criminology programme because Nicky Padfield was the Master. 

How did you find the course and what difference has it made to you and your career?

It’s made a huge difference to my career. Inspired by the criminology programme and the environment of being with police officers doing research, we created the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing. There was a British Society before us and now there’s a Canadian Society and others. The programme brought cops together from all around the world: Hong Kong, the UK, the United States, Sweden, Denmark, Australia. And by bringing us all together – and Fitzwilliam seemed to have all the Australians, all the Americans and all the Swedes – we got exposed to other countries and other ideas about policing and the way they did their policing compared to the US. We’re all dealing with the same problems: we all have the same crime issues and the same societal issues. But there’s different countries that might be a little bit more advanced or have more funding to try new ideas. In Fitzwilliam, because of the way we were structured, we’d all go to dinner together, have breakfast together, and be able to discuss all these different ideas.

Renee Mitchell with her husband Mark Greenlee
Renee Mitchell, a Sergeant in the Sacramento Police Department, with her husband Mark Greenlee, who is a Captain


How have you managed to apply what you’ve learned?

In a ton of different ways. It helped me create the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing, because I couldn’t have done it without the support of everybody involved. Three of my classmates from Fitzwilliam helped me start it. Julie Wartell, Stuart Greer and Josh Young were the people I called when we first came up with this idea. Also, my own individual work. Since Cambridge I’ve helped other agencies set up their own randomised controlled trials to study the impact of their police practices on their community, and quasi-experiments, and training for police agencies across the world. I’m going to be the Australia and New Zealand Society’s keynote speaker this year - and everyone involved in the Australia and New Zealand Society were Fitzwilliam students also. We were all the foreign students, so we were able to sit and get to know each other and build these societies and ideas. We haven’t done any cross-collaboration as far as research goes yet, but that could be in the future.

What was your College experience like?

The way our programme was set up we would do a dinner every Wednesday night and we would move colleges, all over Cambridge. I loved going to the dinners, wearing the gowns, because it makes you feel like a part of Cambridge, the history and the tradition. And then going to all the pubs after dinner, reliving my 20s in my 40s. You’re with a bunch of other people who are mid-level police officers, management. It’s not like you’re running around with 20-year-olds. It was a great experience. Cambridge was probably the best university experience of my life when it comes to looking back at my education. I tell people all the time to stop looking at the Masters programmes in the US. I tell them if they go to Cambridge you’re going to have an experience like no other. It’s the whole thing, it’s the city, it’s experiencing colleges, it’s exposure to different police departments across the world. 

Who are your role models?

Nicky (Padfield) would invite me to tea and check in on me, and check in on all of the masters students. I was flying in and flying out so I had the potential to not feel connected, but she made me feel very connected to my college. Outside of Fitzwilliam, it’s Larry Sherman. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of Cambridge. He was able to get me a scholarship for my PhD and then really his work - everything I’ve done is based on work he did. I think along the same lines as he does. When I teach evidence-based policing I’m constantly quoting his work. He’s foundational in who I’ve become.