Honors student-researchers: Andrew Beverage, Joshua Fiveson, Alex Helmprecht, Terri Hines, William Johnson, Karen Leh, Joseph Montano, Ronald Novak, Helena Pocanic, Katharine Shrum, Christopher Thompson, Sarah Thornton
Principal Investigator: Assistant Professor James J. Willis
The Henry Louis Gates case generated lots of controversy and little consensus. This was due in no small measure to the lack of an empirical foundation for judging whether the officer’s decision to make an arrest was good or bad policing. The purpose of this research project, conducted by undergraduate students enrolled in the ADJ Honors Seminar (2009-10), was to systematically identify criteria for assessing the quality of police work by any department’s largest resources, its patrol officers. In addition to deepening understanding on this topic, this research provides a preliminary basis for other departments to measure how well their patrol officers are performing rather than just how hard they are working. Researchers and police administrators have tended to address the question of police performance by analyzing the quantity of police work delivered (arrests, citations, etc.), but this tells us very little about the quality of that work. Was a decision the best decision? The lack of empirical research addressing how we might go about measuring good police work is a significant oversight. Members of the public care very much about how they are treated in their encounters with the police, and the police themselves put a great deal of value on “knowledgeable, skillful, and judicious decision making.”
Using 12 in-depth interviews with patrol officers in the Alexandria Police Department and 23 ridealongs, a research team of one faculty member and 12 undergraduate students addressed the issue of “What does good policing look like to the street cop?” Our findings suggested that:
Based on these findings we suggested three policy recommendations:
A poster summarizing this research was presented at GMU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium and honors students presented their findings at the Administration of Justice Department’s annual awards ceremony.