Quantity-and-quality-in-police-research.doc - ROUGH DRAFT...

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ROUGH DRAFT: NOT FOR CITATION NOR QUOTATION Quantity and quality in police research: making the case for case studies Ben Bowling 1 Paper prepared for the Cambridge Symposium on Research Methods and Benchmarking, 30 March 2006 “Imagine a drug that cures patients in some cities but makes them sicker in others. Imagine a drug that makes arthritis less painful among working people, but more painful among the poor and unemployed. Imagine a drug that relieves pain for a day, but increases it a year later. Imagine a drug that works well in hospitals with mostly white and Hispanic women patients, but does not work at all in hospitals with mostly black women patients… These, in effect, are the dilemmas that domestic violence poses for the police. Arrest is the ‘drug’ that research has shown to have such diverse effects on misdemeanour assaults.” – Sherman (1992), Policing Domestic Violence , quoted on the dust jacket. “Crime isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumour, except that the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack.” Chandler (1977: 599) cited by Reiner (2000: 220) Introduction This paper considers the scope of policing research and the advantages and disadvantages of experimental, survey, observational and case study methods. It examines the criteria on which ‘good’ police research can be assessed and pleads the case for more mixed methods and for methodologically rigorous and theoretically informed case studies. The paper concludes that in view of the diversity of the police research enterprise, the complexity of the police organisation, role and remit, and the various insights that can be brought to bear by using a variety of different methods, the ‘gold standard’ of policing research should not be defined on the basis of a choice of method (since this will depend on the problem being researched), but instead be defined by the skill and expertise of the researcher, the quality of the research conducted and its internal and external validity. 1 Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, King’s College London. 1
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The scope of research on policing and the police My first point does not concern research design and methods at all, but concerns the substantive field of police research. I think that good police research should attempt to explore all of the relevant topics in the field. At present this is far from the case. Although the situation is changing rapidly, contemporary police research is obsessed by the question of the effectiveness of the police in crime reduction at the expense of many other topics (Reiner 2000). The ‘evidence-based’ policing paradigm is almost exclusively focused on these questions (Sherman 1998, Jordan 1998) and this is true of the Campbell Collaboration on “crime and justice” (Farrington 2003) 2 . It is hardly surprising that this should be a preoccupation of police research, especially that sponsored by the police service and the Home Office. Crime reduction is, after all, the great legitimating idea of the police organisation.
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