Research Briefs

Not in Our House? Substance Abuse among Police and Firefighters

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

It is not something we like to think about, but the evidence reveals that many law enforcement officers and firefighters struggle with abuse of alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs. Public safety professionals experience unusually high levels of stress related to potential dangers to their physical safety and the effects of experiencing a multitude of gruesome events. Some, as a result, turn to alcohol and/or drugs as a coping mechanism. The prevalence of drug and alcohol use among police officers and firefighters may be higher than you think.

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How Dangerous Are Domestic Violence Calls to Officer Safety?

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Domestic violence (DV) calls carry a reputation for being extremely dangerous for officers. Some academics and DV victim advocates, however, have challenged this reputation and have suggested that DV calls are rarely dangerous for officers. This research brief will examine the research on assaults on officers at DV calls. Specifically, it will examine the prevalence of officer assaults, the trend of officer deaths at DV calls over time, what factors predict these officer assaults, the characteristics of lethal force assaults on officers at DV calls, and the factors that predict an officer surviving a lethal force assault at a DV call.

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Helping Domestic Violence Victims

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Domestic violence (DV) calls pose a number of physical safety and legal liability risks for law enforcement officers. These calls involve crimes between people with complex relationship issues that can make investigating these crimes very difficult for officers. In fact, one study that surveyed patrol officers from 13 different municipal police departments in the Chicago metro area revealed that, despite the physical dangers associated with DV calls, officers’ greatest
frustrations with handling these calls were associated with DV victims. Approximately 38% of surveyed officers indicated that dealing with victim behaviors was their greatest frustration about handling DV calls. Specifically, officers expressed frustration over victim behaviors such as refusing to cooperate with their investigation, recanting statements, refusing to testify, or refusing to end the relationship with the batterer. These are valid frustrations for officers, as DV victims are more likely to display these behaviors than are victims of other crimes.

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Remember the People between the Dots

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Criminologists have documented that as young law enforcement officers progress through their careers, there is a tendency to develop cynical views toward the general public. The public primarily calls the police when things have gone wrong and, therefore, officers are overexposed to negative events and to bad citizen behavior. As a result, officers can often begin to lump all citizens together and view them all in a negative manner that reflects their experiences with those in the community prone to criminality, dishonesty and violence.

Intelligence-led policing strategies may have also exacerbated this phenomenon as an unanticipated side effect of these policing strategies. Intelligence-led policing, sometimes referred to as “putting cops on dots,” emphasizes proactively deploying law enforcement officers to high crime locations at peak times for criminal offending. The aim of this strategy is deterring crime before it occurs. It is indisputable that intelligence-led policing strategies have been very successful at reducing actual crime.2 One negative side effect, however, is that since officers are deployed directly to locations where criminal offenders operate at times when these offenders are most likely to engage in crime, officers increase their exposure to the bad guys. Additionally, the fact that crime hot spots tend to be clustered nearby each other in specific neighborhoods makes it very easy for officers to stereotype everyone found in the area as a criminal.

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Estimating the Cost of a Problem Officer

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Law enforcement is a high-liability profession. Lawsuits against law enforcement officers and agencies absorb an inordinate amount of personnel time and agency resources. Officers and supervisors have to be interviewed or deposed, attorney fees have to be paid, documents have to be gathered and copied, meetings are held with city officials, and insurance companies must be consulted. It all results in one expensive, time-consuming mess.

Some lawsuits against law enforcement agencies and officers are baseless, but others are not. In fact, several studies have revealed that the vast majority of citizen complaints and lawsuits filed against any law enforcement agency are generated by a small number of repeat offender personnel. One study examined citizen complaints across 165 law enforcement agencies in the state of Washington, finding that about 5% of the officers on these agencies were responsible for all of the sustained citizen complaints. Another study examined 15-years of citizen complaint and internal misconduct data within one urban police department in the state of New York. It found that about 6% of the officers employed by the department over those 15 years accounted for almost all of the internal and external allegations of misconduct.

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Community Policing is Not Soft on Crime: The Evidence

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Dolan Consulting Group is committed to the principles of community-oriented policing. Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter push back from attendees in our courses that suggest community-oriented policing strategies are some form of a “hug-a-thug” philosophy that is soft on crime and criminals. We are often baffled when we encounter such views as we struggle to understand how community-oriented policing strategies, designed to include law abiding citizen input to determine crime priorities and responses, could be considered soft on crime.

The community oriented policing strategies we advocate focus on the targeting of crime and criminals. These strategies involve officers getting out of their patrol cars and actively engaging the community in a way that builds relationships that lead to intelligence-gathering and crime prevention and prosecution. Including citizens in the processes of alerting the police about crime and identifying criminals is designed to lead to the successful prevention and prosecution of criminals preying upon communities.

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Developing Organizational Performance Leadership