Research Briefs

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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The Patrol Officer’s Perspective on Rewards and Punishments

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Decades of extensive research in psychology has revealed that people respond to rewards and punishments in the workplace.1Law enforcement officers are no exception. We are generally motivated to engage in, or refrain from, specific behaviors because of the rewards and punishments associated with those behaviors.

Private industry often links pay and other rewards to specific employee performance goals. High performance often results in pay raises, swift promotions and bonuses. Failing to live up to the performance standards in the private sector often means that a potential year-end pay bonus is denied or that an under-performing employee will be included in the company’s next round of reduction-in-force layoffs.

In the public sector, however, we usually do not think of using employee rewards. This is, at least in part, due to the nature of civil service rules that make using formal rewards difficult. Public sector employers generally cannot offer pay bonuses or an unscheduled promotion to reward excellent work.

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Communicating Performance Expectations to Officers

By Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.

It seems like common sense that if you want someone to do something for you, you would simply ask or tell that individual what you need to be accomplished. It would seem that this strategy of simply telling people what you need, is a better strategy than expecting people to intuitively know or read subtle hints about what you need. Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that leaders in law enforcement agencies, especially first-line supervisors, rarely give their team members clear instructions about what needs to be done.

One study, for example, involved observers attending 251 roll call briefings and ride-alongs with patrol officers on the Baltimore Police Department. The observers found that in only 4% of the shifts did supervisors give their officers any sort of directives or tasks. Even when tasks or directives were given, they were often stated in a vague way, such as “There has been an increase in burglaries in the Hampden neighborhood, so let’s give that neighborhood some extra attention”.

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Developing Organizational Performance Leadership