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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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Why Do Criminals Commit Crime?

Understanding the relationships between biology, family, labor markets, economy and community, and how these forces intertwine with criminal conduct, has been perplexing scholars for decades.   As a result of rigorous study, we tend to have a much wider base of knowledge regarding the patterns and causes of criminal activity on an individual level, than we know about factors that create criminal environments. In as much, we also posses a great deal more insight regarding the factors that create criminal environments than we know about factors that influence trends in crime longitudinally.  Regardless, there appears to be no single theory as to what causes an individual to participate in deviant behavior.

The law and the legal system in general set forth technical standards and expectations that represent an official normative source for defining what is deviant; it is, by definition, legitimate (Mastrofski, Snipes, Parks, & Maxwell, 2000). Throughout ones lifetime, at some point, most people will commit a crime of some sort.  It can be something as serious as a murder, or something as innocuous as violating the speed limit or littering. Additionally, some teenagers in their youthful indiscretion, tend to commit relatively serious crimes, but desist in participating in further criminal activity as they transition into adulthood.  This leads one to believe that engaging in criminal activity is not merely a biological inadequacy or a genetic flaw, but a temporary manifestation fostered by a wide array of available life choices and environmental influences. The task of criminological study in the future will be to further define those life-course influences that shape our being and influence our behavior to participate in criminal activity.  That will be no easy task, because all human beings are different, and their life experiences and exposure to criminal deviance will vary greatly.

One thing is certain.  The factors that cause one individual to participate in deviant behavior may not necessarily be the same factors that cause another individual to participate in deviant behavior.  So, one needs to be careful in how he or she defines deviant behavior and crime, because as previously stated, crime encompasses everything from littering to murder.  Additionally, one needs to examine the current level of public tolerance towards crime and the age composition of the population.  Research has shown that youthful offenders between the ages of 15-24 commit most crime, so one would expect an increase in deviant behavior to correlate directly with the age composition of the population at the time.

The underlying cause of criminal activity and deviant behavior are many to say the least. American policing has entered a time when reformers have shifted the meaning of the term professionalism from being a snappy bureaucrat to being a well-trained decision maker, acting like a clinician serving clients based on their informed judgment of what they need (Mastrofski, Snipes, Parks, & Maxwell, 2000, p. 314; Bittner, 1970)). The challenge for the criminal justice system will be its ability to be flexible, resilient and adept to change in a quickly evolving society.  Of all the ideas in policing, one stands out as the most powerful force for change: police practices should be based on scientific evidence about what works best (Sherman, 1998, p. 2). In today’s economically distressed times, police departments are required to do more with less resources. So, like it or not, it is a huge advantage to have an entire field of research dedicated to the study of what police do, at no cost to them (Engel & Whalen, 2010). The criminal justice system needs to be able to form partnerships with scholars and utilize the wealth of knowledge obtained through research to guide and define their initiatives.  However, researchers need to understand the political environment of police agencies and criminal justice systems, remaining aware that most criminal justice practitioners need quick solutions to their concerns, not something that stems from research conducted that produces a result a decade later.

In any event, inequality, poverty, unemployment, weak social controls, substance abuse, poor parent-child attachment and parental supervision, family factors, influence of peers, increased availability of firearms, public tolerance of crime and inadequate law enforcement will all no doubt have long-term influence over the ability of the criminal justice system to effectively combat criminal activity and deviant behavior.  As such, since it is obvious that deviant behavior is not a result of a single influence or a combined set of influences, it makes no sense to try and force one end-all solution.  In order to truly understand the far-reaching aspects of deviant behavior, it is necessary to observe criminal activity as it unfolds in a dynamic environment (Maguire & Katz, 2002). Varied strategies, including ethnographic research, should emphasize the particular nature of the crime and focus on the formulating options for the time.  Only through the implementation of creative methodologies will the criminal justice system be able to expand their knowledge of the problems they face (Maguire & Katz, 2002).

 

 

References

Bittner, E. (1970). The functions of police in modern society. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Engel, R. S., & Whalen, J. L. (2010, April). Police-academic partnerships: ending the dialogue of the deaf, the Cincinnati experience. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, 11(2), 105-116.

Maguire, E. R., & Katz, C. M. (2002). Community policing, loose coupling, and sensemaking in American police agencies. Justice Quarterly, 19(3), 503-536.

Mastrofski, S. D., Snipes, J. B., Parks, R. B., & Maxwell, C. D. (2000). The helping hand of the law: Police control of citizens on request. Criminology, 38(2), 307-342.

Sherman, L. W. (1998, July). Evidence-based policing. Ideas in American Policing, 1-15.

 

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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.