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The Contribution of Research to Policing

For decade’s police organizations throughout the United States and some to some extent even today, have failed to fully embrace academia and their attempts to provide options to criminal justice dilemmas through the use of empirical and scholarly research.  One of the guiding principles of this thought process was the notion that those in academia, merely sat perched in their sterile environments theorizing about how crime could be addressed in a perfect world, and did not really understand the true idiosyncratic complexities challenging officers on the street. Additionally, law enforcement officers and administrators alike, knew that quality research of any kind takes time.  Practitioners were faced with dilemmas in real time and did not have time to wait for researchers to conduct research, compile data, analyze it and publish their results.  Additionally, academics tend to believe that what has been researched and proven scientifically will automatically work, and if not, that practitioners are ignoring research and failing to implement it.  The fact is that many practitioners welcome the research provided by academia.  Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is multi-faceted and there are many agencies, individuals and personalities that must all come together in a “ideological perfect storm” and agree to implement research findings in a collaborative manner.  In any event, the process could literally take years and most police chiefs are appointed annually. So, the inability of researchers to present viable options to real-time crime issues in real-time, and the ability for that perfect storm to form, ultimately proves to be a career ender for many police chiefs who had no alternatives at their disposal.

The facts remain that the police have a difficult and wide-ranging set of ambiguous issues facing them; researching those issues accurately and scientifically is very time consuming; and, unfortunately, even if research results were available immediately, police departments in general have had a history of being highly resistant to change and hesitant to implement new programs.  However, great strides have been taken over the past two decades, to close the gap between how the police perceive research and being able to recognize the value that research can bring to the police operation.  Police departments have become more receptive to research driven innovations to address crime and have begun to regularly collaborate with researchers in an attempt to become more focused in their research efforts.

Breaking the barriers to research has proven to be effective in many ways.  Research has been able to contribute to police work by providing answers to age-old dilemmas.  Analyzing police data has allowed researchers to theorize and suggest critical innovations in the way the police should go about the business of policing.  Innovations such as Compstat, hot spot policing, problem oriented, community policing and evidence-based policing represent just a few. Utilizing these concepts in conjunction with one another will allow the police to refine their crime control strategies and improve their performance.

It would be incredulous to assume that research is the panacea that will solve all of the problems facing the police.  Quality of life issues change, and with them change the strategies that the police will need to use to address those issues. As such, society will continue to set the priorities for the police and the police will need to rearrange their goals and strategies to meet those needs.  Additionally, police researchers will never be lacking for topics to research, and currently only the surface has been scratched.  Martin Innes (2010), in his article asserts that there are four sets of relationship in which police research arises, research by the police, research on the police, research for the police and research with the police.  Now that police administrators have begun to accept research as a viable alternative providing solutions that work, it is imperative that the collaboration between researchers, the police and all government partners remain constant and strong, or policing will lose the toehold they currently have making it even more difficult to gain ground in the future.

The ability to harness fact-based knowledge that can directly impact the effectiveness of police in addressing societal challenges is a rich investment in the stabilization of our communities.  Research provides the catalyst for innovation and increases the value of policing in our society.

 

References:

Innes, M. (2013). “A ‘Mirror’ and a ‘Motor’: Researching and Reforming Policing in an Age of Austerity.” Policing: 127–134.

 

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Can Discretion Lead to Corruption?

Police corruption and police misconduct have been topics of concern for police administrators since the beginning of policing, as we know it.  For some departments, corruption and misconduct are as common of terms as badge and gun.  Sadly, the use of those terms is not always mutually exclusive, and the toxic combination of greed, lack of self-discipline, poor judgment, and an inconsistent moral compass has left an indelible mark on the fabric of American policing.

Employees behaving badly are a disturbing element in any organization. But, it is especially disturbing when unrighteous or unjust behavior is manifested from a position of public trust. Disturbingly, the very discretion that the police are empowered with to equitably enforce the law, is the very same stratagem they use to break the law.  Officers fiercely defend it when administrators try to limit it, yet it is one of the first things a citizen will point to when making an accusation of corruption or discrimination. The problem is in the definition of discretion.  Discretion is the ability, based on good judgment, to make decisions as to what should or should not be done, in certain situations.  Of all the knowledge, skills and abilities that a police officer acquires during a career, discretion and judgment are two components that are imbedded long before the relevant training occurs.

Not all police officers are morally deficient, corrupt and teetering on the brink of criminality as some would like to assert.  Media focus tends to sensationalise even the most innocuous police incident, causing pandemonium within the the “conspiracy theorists” circles, who pounce on any slightly questionable police interaction and transform it into a corrupt government covering up something more sinister and diabolical.  The fact is, there are multitudes of officers who are hardworking, caring and boundlessly honest, no matter what the consequences. With that said, just as in any organization that employs human beings, police organizations have good employees, and those that are not so good. The behaviors that one engages in, or chooses not to engage in, are as a result of a complex mixture of ingrained familial morals and values, coupled with those of their current organizational and cultural environment.  Administrators are at times rendered helpless in their attempt to control and eradicate corrupt behavior, as policies against such behavior, rely on the administrator’s ability to ferret out undesirable behavior, not merely through the citizen complaint process, but through conscientious and persistent support of officers and their colleagues.  Sadly, an ingrained organizational culture is difficult to change, and even in the best of circumstances, can take seven to ten years to modify organizational behavior.

Corruption and engaging in bad behavior, regrettably, are a part of our larger culture.  The Klockers (2000), article states that the corruption problem for police is the integrity struggle between the abuse of police authority for gain, and the normative inclination among police to resist temptations to abuse their authority.  As long as human beings have the ability to think, approach tasks, reason, make their own independent judgments and are free to use discretion to creatively solve problems and situations based on those judgments, the opportunity for corruption and unjust behavior will always be present.  However, it does not mean that police organizations should accept it or surrender their desire to control and eradicate it.  Organizational change requires work, the buy-in of City Council and consistency. Persistence, despite difficulty, opposition and long-standing tradition or history, will be the best defense in altering and reshaping how the police, police themselves.  It will be a continuous uphill struggle, however, we must keep in mind the strides that have been made over the past decades to reduce and attempt to eliminate police corruption.  When viewed through this retrospective optic, the past illuminates the future with the hope that even incremental changes make an enormous difference.

 

References

Klockars, C.B., Ivkovich, S.K, et al. (2000). The Measurement of Police Integrity. National Institute of Justice, Research in Brief, May 2000, 1-11 (NCJ174459) . Washington, D.C.

 

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The Challenges of Police Use of Force

The authority given to police with regard to use of force, especially the use of deadly force, has long been a topic of discussion and analysis.  For decades, researchers, citizen groups, civil rights organizations, police administrators and the courts have been dissecting the issues surrounding police use of physical force, in an attempt to try to understand the causal factors leading to the need for use of force, as well as what constitutes excessive force.  The notion of justifiable use of force has been addressed by the courts in several landmark decisions, however, media scrutiny over a few highly publicized and emotive police use of force encounters, has continued to fuel the controversy of the appropriateness of police behavior during use of force incidents and continues to spark heated debate as to what level of physical force is reasonable and necessary.

Alpert and Smith (1994), in their research, examine the very issue of reasonableness and necessity with regard to police behaviors in use of force situations.  They outline and examine specific conditions that can lead to police use of force and make an attempt to understand and interpret the ambiguous Fourth Amendment concept of “objective reasonableness” and their Constitutional right to be secure in their persons, and the guidelines set forth in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), regarding an arrest, investigatory stop or other seizure of a free citizen.  This legal standard has been one of the foremost guiding principles driving police use of force policy throughout the past several decades; however, Alpert and Smith bring to light the standard of “reasonableness” as a fundamental concept is an unrealistic standard when applied broadly, based on the vagueness of the interpretation of the definition.  What may seem reasonable and necessary to one person may be completely different to someone else.  Additionally, the reasonableness of an untrained citizen may be distinguished much differently than that of a highly trained officer, or even a poorly trained officer for that matter.

Critics of police use of force often analyze the situation well after the incident has occurred. Everything is analyzed from the officer’s frame of mind, the severity of the incident, the physical and social environment, severity of injury, officer characteristics, suspect characteristics, the officer’s level of training and experience and consideration of discriminatory factors to name just a few.  However, something that appears to be overlooked by many critics is the fact that the analysis of these use of force incidents occur after the fact.  As such, those analyzing the officer’s behavior and decision-making are doing so in a sterile environment, free from the stresses and dangers that the officer felt at the time the incident was unfolding.  Most use of force decisions that an officer has to make are made in an instant, without the benefit or luxury of thoughtful consideration and the analysis of prior research or court decisions.  These instantaneous, life or death decisions must be made in response to rapidly evolving incidents occurring in highly charged and unreceptive environments.  This results in leaving the officer, who in the heat of the moment believes he or she is acting within the confines of policy, law and the standard of reasonableness, exposed to the consequences of analysis made by actors outside the paroxysm of the situation, to determine whether the force used was justified and reasonable.

Although Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987), provides immunity from personal liability to officers whose actions, although resulting in otherwise actionable injury, did not violate clearly established law, one of their biggest challenges remains to be the ambiguity of the “reasonableness” standard, especially when emotions are amplified through the inaccurate sensationalism of media reports that tend to surround a use of force incident.

In future posts, use of force management, use of force methodology and the use of force by police, dichotomized based upon theory and practice, will also be discussed.

 

References

Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987). Justia Law. Retrieved 2017-06-15.

Alpert, G. P. & Smith, W.C., (1994). How Reasonable is the Reasonable Man?: Police and Excessive Force. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 85(2), 481-501.

Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Justia Law. Retrieved 2017-06-15.

 

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  • Users are permitted to read the website and the Information and make copies for their own personal use, for example by printing or storing it. All other use of the website or the information, for example the storage or reproduction of (a part of) the website of Chief Concerns in any external internet site or the creation of links, hypertext links or deeplinks between the website of Chief Concerns and any other internet site, is prohibited without the express written consent of Chief Jody O’Guinn, Carbondale, IL.