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Date: July 17, 2003
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

U.S. Government Should Help Close Gaps
In Research on Policing

Police officers are perhaps the most visible faces of the law, and one of the few groups authorized to use force when dealing with the public. But despite the pivotal role that officers play in preventing and controlling crime, and in promoting justice, the science base is often inadequate regarding the value, fairness, and legitimacy of police practices and policies.

To help close gaps in knowledge, the National Institute of Justice – an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice – should spearhead efforts to enhance the quality and expand the scope of research on contemporary police work, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. States and municipalities bear the major costs of law enforcement, but the federal government is well-situated to gather and disseminate scientific findings that could help local police agencies do a better job on many key fronts, including recruitment, training, and organizational leadership.

There are some important areas where the research base on policing is already quite solid, said the committee that wrote the report. For example, studies show that the more focused police strategies are, the more success officers are likely to have in controlling crime and disorder. Instead of embracing one-size-fits-all approaches, police should tailor their work to the specific circumstances of their communities. Numerous police departments have taken this tack, embracing "problem-oriented policing," which develops highly localized responses to diverse problems, and the "community policing" philosophy, which typically calls for a visible and formal channel through which the public can help police solve major problems or set priorities. Such approaches hold promise, but they should be carefully researched because the arrangements that bolster them are not well-understood, the report says.

In addition, the committee's review, which concentrated primarily on research done since 1968, found that fairness and effectiveness in police work go hand in hand. People obey the law not simply because they are afraid of being punished or because they believe the law is morally right, but also because they believe that the law and its enforcement are fairly administered. Scientific evidence contradicts any assumption that policing which is fair and restrained will be ineffective in controlling crime.

In encounters with suspected offenders, the likelihood of police making arrests or using force increases proportionately with the strength of the evidence of criminal wrongdoing and with the severity of the offense, research suggests. Taking these factors into account, the gender and socioeconomic class of suspects play lesser roles. But more research is needed on the impact of race, ethnicity, and other social factors in police-citizen interactions – and on the experiences of crime victims and people stopped by the police, the report says. Data gathered to monitor racial profiling must be analyzed with particular care and appropriate benchmarks to be useful to police administrators and policy-makers. A recurring national survey that gauges the extent and nature of the public's interactions with police would be helpful as well.

Neither the race nor the gender of police officers appears to directly influence the outcome of their routine encounters with the public, the committee noted, and there is no clear link between these characteristics and officers' attitudes, personalities, or levels of job satisfaction. However, research on police recruitment and training is very limited. Plus, there are few studies on how officers' knowledge, skills, or intelligence affects their actual performance in the field. More studies also are needed on how departments' personnel practices affect police conduct.

The committee also recommended legislation requiring police departments to file public reports each year on the number of people shot at, wounded, or killed by officers on duty. This reporting system would help local departments monitor weapon use in relation to risk factors such as community violence and arrest rates.

Scientists should coordinate studies of organizational influences – such as performance standards or methods of supervising officers – as well as structures. There have been no comprehensive studies on management configurations that best promote good performance, innovation, and experimentation, the committee said.

In addition, scholars should explore how the demands of responding to terrorism affect America's local police agencies, as well as how departments should respond to these challenges. This is an important area of inquiry, the report says, given national security concerns and the current shortage of research on the topic.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 requires the Department of Justice to conduct evaluations of policing programs. The same law also encourages localities to adopt community policing. The department asked the National Research Council to assess the state of police research and the influence and operation of community-policing models.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence are available from the National Academies Press for $52.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This announcement and the report are available at ]

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Committee on Law and Justice

Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices

Wesley G. Skogan (chair)
Professor of Political Science, and
Member, Research Faculty
Institute for Policy Research
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

David H. Bayley (vice chair)
Distinguished Professor
School of Criminal Justice
State University of New York

Lawrence D. Bobo
Professor of Sociology and
Afro-American Studies
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Ruth Davis*
President and Chief Executive Officer
Pymatuning Group Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

John E. Eck
Associate Professor
Division of Criminal Justice
University of Cincinnati

David A. Klinger
Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice
University of Missouri
St. Louis

Janet Lauritsen
Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice
University of Missouri
St. Louis

Tracey Maclin
School of Law
Boston University

Stephen D. Mastrofski
Administration of Justice Program, and
Professor of Public and International Affairs
George Mason University
Fairfax, Va.

Tracey L. Meares
School of Law
University of Chicago

Mark Moore
Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and Management
Kennedy School of Government, and
Hauser Center for Nonprofit Institutions
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Ruth Peterson
Professor of Sociology, and
Director, Criminal Justice Research Center
Ohio State University

Elaine B. Sharp
Professor of Political Science
Division of Government
University of Kansas

Lawrence W. Sherman
Fels Center of Government, and
Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations
University of Pennsylvania

Samuel Walker
Isaacson Professor of Criminal Justice
University of Nebraska

David Weisburd
Professor of Criminology, and
Director, Institute of Criminology
Hebrew University Law School
Jerusalem, and
Senior Research Scientist
Police Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Robert Worden
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Public Policy
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, and
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
School of Criminal Justice
State University of New York


Kathleen Frydl
Study Director

* Member, National Academy of Engineering