Financial Support Advances Timely, Problem-Solving Research Amid rising costs and declining state support, grants and gifts are more important than ever

By Stan Paul

In the most recent fiscal year, UCLA Luskin received more than $32 million in extramural funding, which includes research grants and contracts, gifts from individuals, foundation funding and endowments. The School’s fundraising efforts contributed to almost $11.5 million of that total.

Amid rising costs and declining state funding for the University of California system, this type of support is more important than ever. External funding sources large and small allow individual scholars and UCLA Luskin-affiliated research centers to continue to pursue important and timely research on numerous policy issues, including such pressing topics as the environment, labor, crime and social justice. Here are just a few examples:


The devastation of wildfires is well-known in California — loss of life, displacement of people from their homes, and high rebuilding costs to individuals, governments and the private sector.

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, studies social dimensions of climate change, environmental and climate justice, and how cities are adapting to effects such as extreme weather and sea-level rise as a scholar at UCLA Luskin and in association with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

This research on wildfires and “managed retreat” has received support from the National Science Foundation, or NSF. The concept, in general, involves moving people and infrastructure out of harm’s way well before disaster strikes and is part a growing debate about managed retreat in high-risk coastal areas and fire-prone zones.

The grant resulted from the NSF’s 2022 call for proposals, which recognized wildland fire as “becoming an increasingly prevalent and pressing phenomenon nationally and globally.”

Her proposal received a one-year planning grant to develop a research agenda on the intersection of wildfire and managed retreat. The award is funded through the NSF’s Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment Program and the independent federal agency’s Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences Program.

“While there have been recent calls in the media, and by some policymakers and academics, to consider relocating people and infrastructure away from places facing high wildfire risk, little research examines whether retreat is an effective or equitable response in wildfire contexts,” Koslov said. The existing understanding of managed retreat is based almost exclusively on studies by herself and others that focused on flooding and sea-level rise.

Koslov and her co-principal investigator Kathryn McConnell, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University’s Population Studies and Training Center, argue that the dynamics of wildfire require attention in their own right.


Exposure to crime is among the factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police, and that topic is part of a new study by Emily Weisburst, an assistant professor of public policy.

Thanks to a two-year grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, Weisburst and a UCLA colleague, Felipe Gonçalves of economics, plan to shed light on how and why the experience of crime and police enforcement of crime may differ in the United States for individuals from different races and income groups. The project uses descriptive mapping to look at disparities using high-frequency policing data — information that Weisburst said has not previously been available on a large scale.

Data from 911 calls, crimes and arrests across U.S. cities will be used to measure how Americans of different races and income levels are exposed to criminal activity. The researchers intend to document variations in exposure to crime and policing at a granular level in order to estimate the causal impact of residential segregation on racial gaps in neighborhood crime and arrest exposure.

“The analysis is really exciting, but it’s almost secondary to cleaning the data because the data collection is so ambitious. We’re getting these individual records of 911 calls, crimes and arrests from hundreds of cities around the country,” Weisburst said.

The data will come in different forms from different cities, and it all must be validated. Most of the data is now there to be verified, she said, “which allows UCLA graduate students and undergraduate students to get involved.”

Once disparities are mapped, the researchers will try to understand a primary causal factor: “We’re going to look at how these gaps vary across cities depending on their degree of segregation,” Weisburst said.

Guaranteed Income in L.A.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Judith Perrigo is more than two years into a five-year study to evaluate an experiment whereby some Los Angeles residents negatively affected by the pandemic have been receiving a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month.

Perrigo’s work, funded in conjunction with Los Angeles County and the University of Pennsylvania, is part of a larger effort to evaluate similar programs in cities across the nation.

Perrigo is currently looking at L.A.’s version, a pilot program called Breathe in which 1,000 individuals received $1,000 a month for 36 months. She is working with a team that includes co-principal investigator Margaret Thomas, formerly of UCLA and now an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, as well as PhD students.

“We designed a randomized controlled trial following those 1,000 people that are receiving guaranteed income,” Perrigo said. In addition, researchers are contacting about 2,000 people who are not receiving guaranteed income, but applied for the program.

“We’re examining the differences between those two groups on overall health and well-being,” Perrigo said.

A digital dashboard shows in real time how people are using the funds. It includes demographic data on participants, and the economic context for pilot participants in terms of unemployment and inflation.

The spending breakdown shows that food, transportation and housing are among the top expenditures, whereas health care/medical expenses and education are closer to the bottom. “Not surprisingly, the majority are using [the money] for basic needs like rent and utilities,” Perrigo said.

More broadly, she is also interested in understanding the program’s impact on health, mental health, overall well-being and child development. The researchers are looking at a subset of families that have young children under age 5.

“We want to know if this program, or a program like this, can help disrupt intergenerational poverty,” said Perrigo, who specializes in advancing holistic well-being for young children.

A Second Chance for Incarcerated Youths

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of Social Welfare, is among a team of researchers from across the country awarded support by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to lead an extensive national study of young people sentenced to life in prison who are ultimately given a chance at freedom.

The team’s three-year project is building a base of knowledge that supports safe and equitable sentencing and “second-look” policies for people sentenced to life in prison for offenses committed before they were age 18. Some have spent years behind bars.

“This research seeks to answer critical policy questions,” Abrams said. “Can we develop a set of evidence-informed policies that provide second chances for people serving long sentences for violent crimes? Can we reduce our overreliance on long sentences in the future without compromising public safety?”

Weisburst on Impact of Expanding Police Forces

An article in the College Fix highlighted research co-authored by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst on how increasing the size of a police force affects crime and arrest rates. The researchers found that the hiring of an additional 10 to 17 full-time police officers prevented one new homicide per year — a decline that’s twice as large for Black victims in per capita terms. Yet with each extra officer came seven to 22 new low-level arrests for offenses such as liquor violations and drug possession. The research team analyzed police employment data for 242 U.S. cities with populations greater than 50,000 over a 38-year period. “This study provides an estimate of the historical trade-offs of investments in law enforcement and, critically, the resulting implications for communities of color,” the authors said. The findings, first published in a December 2020 working paper, will appear in a forthcoming issue of American Economic Review: Insights. 


Weisburst on Racial Disparities in Policing

Research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was cited in a Star Tribune opinion piece about racial disparities associated with police presence and crime. Weisburst co-authored a paper that looked at changes in police force size, crime and arrests in 242 large American cities over nearly 40 years in order to draw conclusions about the impact of police presence on different populations. They found that “investments in law enforcement save Black lives … but at the cost of more low-level ‘quality of life’ arrests and all the insults and injuries of intensive policing.” The authors calculated that, on average, one homicide is prevented per year for every 10 to 17 additional police officers employed, but the number of street arrests for low-level offenses, especially for Black civilians, also increases with greater police presence. The paper concludes that “Black communities are simultaneously over- and under-policed.”

Weisburst on Impact of Police in Schools

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was mentioned in an Axios article about the presence of police officers on school campuses. Some school districts are considering replacing campus police officers with improved mental health services after studies have shown that Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately affected by disciplinary action in schools, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. Weisburst’s research also found that disabled students are disproportionately affected negatively when police or school resource officers rather than teachers and administrators maintain discipline. In her 2019 paper “Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes,” Weisburst found that school police presence was associated with a decrease in both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Her analysis also confirmed that Black students experience the largest increases in discipline when police are on campus. Weisburst and others recommend increasing funding and quality of mental health services for students.

Discussion of Qualified Immunity and Police Violence

A panel of guest speakers from UCLA and the field of criminal justice will discuss qualified immunity and police violence in America.


Emily Weisburst, assistant professor of public policy, criminal justice expert and researcher

Connie Rice, civil rights lawyer and co-director of Advancement Project of Los Angeles

Joanna Schwartz, law professor and a leading expert on police misconduct

Steven Zipperstein, public policy lecturer, and a lawyer on criminal justice policy


Weisburst Research on School Police, Student Success Cited

An Economist article discussing the effectiveness of school police officers cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst. In the 1990s, a federal crime bill included funding for “school resource officers,” leading to the widespread presence of police on the nation’s elementary, middle school and high school campuses. The article cited an ACLU report showing that 14 million students attend schools with a police officer on campus but no counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker. Still, many teachers call for reform rather than removal of the officers, according to an Education Week survey cited in the article. Weisburst’s research assessed student success in Texas school districts that used federal grants to hire resource officers. She found that they experienced a 2.5% decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4% decrease in college enrollment.


Weisburst on Effect of School Police Presence on Student Success

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was featured in Christian Science Monitor and LAist articles about the changing role of police officers in schools. Nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd have prompted a rethinking of policing in schools as authorities debate how best to keep students safe and treat them fairly. “We are devoting a lot of resources to police in schools, and there can be protective benefits to that, potentially,” Weisburst explained. “But there are also really big potential costs that I think we need to be concerned about.” Weisburst’s research on the relationship between grants to fund police in schools and educational outcomes for students at those schools found statistically significant drops in the graduation rate and college enrollment rate for students at those schools. “When students are disciplined, their attachment to school decreases,” she said. “That can translate in the longer term to a lower likelihood of graduation.”

Weisburst on Pinpointing the Source of Racial Disparities in Policing

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst co-authored an EconoFact article highlighting racial disparities in policing from an economics research perspective. Protests following the death of George Floyd have brought a new focus to racial disparities in U.S. policing. Economics research has historically sought to understand the role of police officer prejudice or bias in perpetuating the disparities. Newer studies have attempted to evaluate police use-of-force patterns and the effectiveness of reforms such as civilian oversight, de-escalation training and predictive analysis in hiring. Weisburst’s research looks at the extent to which disparity in treatment corresponds to widespread police behavior versus the actions of particular police officers. “Race disparities in policing reflect multiple potential sources of inequities and discrimination,” the authors wrote. They called for more research to pinpoint the source of the disparity and identify the most effective reforms.

Growing to Meet the Challenge of a Changing World UCLA Luskin faculty additions bring new expertise to help keep pace with a rapidly evolving society

By Stan Paul

Retreating coastlines. An information revolution. The ever-evolving ethnic makeup of the United States. These are times of rapid change, presenting new challenges to how and where we live and work.

Meeting the challenges of this new normal and finding solutions to shifting problems and populations, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has undergone unprecedented growth. In fall 2018, nine new scholars joined Luskin’s faculty in positions that cross disciplinary lines within the School and across the campus. This follows the addition of six other new faculty members since 2016. Four more are being recruited.

This expansion is partly tied to the launch of a new undergraduate major in public affairs, but it’s about more than filling out a schedule of classes. The School has become one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system, Dean Gary Segura said. The additions were designed to expand “expertise and social impact,” making the school “profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate, study, and contribute to California’s diverse and dynamic population.”

Among the new faculty, six are women and four are Latino.

Some already have strong interests in Los Angeles as well as ties to UCLA and the region, and others will have the opportunity to incorporate Los Angeles into their work.

“I’m extremely excited to be coming home, living on the Eastside and working on the Westside,” said Chris Zepeda-Millán, associate professor of public policy and Chicana/o studies. Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist who grew up in East Los Angeles, studies how mass protest impacts public opinion, policy preferences, identities and political participation. His book, “Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism,” received awards this year from the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association.

Zepeda-Millán is thrilled to be at UCLA: “It’s truly a dream come true.”

Martin Gilens, professor of public policy, previously taught political science at UCLA. After a long stint at Princeton, he returned to UCLA, where he has multi-generational ties — his parents and grandfather are

Bruins. A native Angeleno, Gilens studies race, class, social inequality and their representational effects in the political system. He teaches courses to graduate and undergraduate students.

“I’m looking forward to the interdisciplinary environment of the Luskin School,” Gilens said. “My Ph.D. is in sociology, and I’ve taught in political science and public policy, so I’m a walking embodiment of interdisciplinarity.”

Natalie Bau adds global perspective and reach. She is an economist studying development and education, with a particular interest in the industrial organization of educational markets. She looks at cultural traditions — such as bride price and dowry practiced in some countries — and their role in determining parents’ human capital investments in their children, and how they evolve in response to the economic environment.

In Zambia, she and research colleagues are tracking the outcomes of 1,600 adolescent girls to evaluate the effects of an experiment that randomly taught negotiation skills.

“My research interests include understanding factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police,” said Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst, who studies labor economics and public finance, including criminal justice and education. “I am also interested in how interactions with the criminal justice system affect individuals, families and communities.”

Amada Armenta earned her doctorate in sociology in 2011 from UCLA and returns as an assistant professor in UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“I am thrilled to be back, to contribute to a university that has played such a formative role in my education,” said the author of the award-winning book, “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Most recently she has examined how undocumented Mexican immigrants navigate bureaucracies in Philadelphia.

“Put briefly, I study the social impacts of climate change and how cities are adapting,” says Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov. “My research specifically focuses on the adaptation strategy known as ‘managed retreat,’ the process of relocating people, un-building land, and restoring habitat in places exposed to flooding, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change.”

Koslov is working on a book aptly titled, “Retreat,” that follows residents of Staten Island in New York City whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and who subsequently decided to relocate rather than rebuild in place.

Like Koslov, new Urban Planning colleague V. Kelly Turner conducts research with an environmental lens. Her work addresses the relationship among institutions, urban design and the environment through two interrelated questions: How does urban design relate to ecosystem services in cities? And to what extent do social institutions have the capacity to deliver those services?

Turner said her approach draws from social-ecological systems frameworks to address urban planning and design problem domains. She has used this approach to investigate microclimate regulation through New Urbanist design, water and biodiversity management through homeowners associations, and stormwater management through green infrastructure interventions.

Joining UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is Amy Ritterbusch, who has led social justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia for the last decade, and also recently in Uganda. Her work documents human rights violations and forms of violence against the homeless, sex workers, drug users and street-connected children and youth, and subsequent community-driven mobilizations to catalyze social justice outcomes within these communities.

“My current research contemplates the dilemmas within our social movement in terms of how to create protective environments for social justice researchers and activists in the midst of working on and against acts of violence and injustice,” Ritterbusch said.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos draws on diverse disciplines, theories and methods to better understand how oppressions such as racism and heterosexism overlap to create unique conditions for individuals.

With a background in developmental psychology, Santos believes that developmental phenomena must be studied across diverse disciplines and perspectives. He draws on the largely interdisciplinary interpretive framework of intersectionality, which is a view “underscoring how systems of oppression overlap to create inequities.”