When Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey embarks on a mission - whether it's designing a policing strategy for the city, acquiring new crime-scene technology, or improving communication between local agencies - he looks to Chief Administrative Officer Nola Joyce to transform his vision into reality.
Joyce, 60, has worked alongside Ramsey for almost 20 years, a partnership that began when they met as members of the Chicago Police Department in 1992. When Ramsey was offered a job as chief of police in Washington, he made sure Joyce came, too. Later, when Ramsey came to Philadelphia, it wasn't long before Joyce joined him.
When the department undertakes a new project, it often falls to Joyce to gather any relevant research, help others understand the goals, and make sure everyone understands his or her role in moving it forward.
"I see myself as the synthesizer," Joyce said this month. "I'm the person who's sitting in a meeting and taking in the bits and pieces of information, and making it all come together in a cohesive way. I'm one of the people who can act as a translator by presenting the information in a way that makes sense."
Joyce heads the Office of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, which develops police strategies. She was instrumental in the plan to divide the city's police districts into smaller areas to be patrolled by consistent teams of officers.
Joyce also led the development of this year's community policing plan, which calls for officers to develop localized crime plans for the areas they cover. In 2009, she helped devise a foot-beat plan, based around the most violent spots in the city, that drove down crime in those neighborhoods.
The foot beats, which were studied in a Temple University report that measured violent incidents, also ended up contradicting earlier studies that suggested foot beats were more "feel-good" than effective.
Joyce, who is from Illinois, brings an academic perspective to crime-fighting. She has master's degrees in sociology, urban affairs and public policy, and in homeland defense and security. She also has studied research methodology, statistics, and public finance.
Her mission is to use research to develop strategies that will make a lasting difference.
"My passion is making the information meaningful, making it useful," she said. "With a lot of people, they want you to prove that what you're suggesting is worth their time. Research, to some extent, allows you to do that."
Joyce started her career working for the Illinois Department of Corrections. At the time, the state was building prisons at a rapid pace, and her job involved devising population estimates.
In 1992, a colleague was hired by the Chicago Police Department and brought Joyce along as part of a team. Joyce and her colleagues were charged with helping officers build better relationships with the community.
With Ramsey, Joyce designed the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, a community policing program that created mini-districts, and encouraged police and residents to cooperate. The program became the most-studied community policing initiative in the country, and is still in use.
When Ramsey accepted the job as chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, he immediately offered Joyce a job.
"I literally did not think about it," she said. "I said, 'Absolutely.' "
Joyce and her family moved to Washington in 1998, where Ramsey put her in charge of managing the changes to everything from the police academy to officer training methods. The city was struggling with a rising crime rate, which Joyce and Ramsey addressed by expanding the community policing model, as they had in Chicago.
By 2007, the overall crime rate in Washington was down almost 50 percent, according to the department. Homicide-case closures rose by more than 10 percent.
When Ramsey came to Philadelphia in 2007, Joyce initially turned down his job offer. For months, she said, Ramsey persisted, enlisting other people to convince her.
Finally, she agreed to visit Philadelphia for Mayor Nutter's inauguration. Ramsey suspected that she would be intrigued by Nutter and his ideas for the city.
"Coming into a city and being part of what makes it rise and grow, that was attractive to me," she said.
In Philadelphia, Joyce said, she has seen the department's work start to pay off. The city is still plagued with persistent gun violence - as of Wednesday, the homicide count was up 17 over this time in 2010 - but homicides are down 17 percent from 2007.
Joyce thinks many parts of the city have also seen the difference from the shift in how police cover the city. Many officers enjoy being able to patrol the same area each day, she said. Many residents at community meetings have expressed appreciation for the department's relationship-building efforts.
"Philadelphia is a far different city than it was in 2007," she said. "And I think our work has contributed to that."