Executive Session and Research Address Problems Facing Law Enforcement

September 23, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

At a time when budgets are getting tighter and jobs are being eliminated, U.S. police departments are facing more struggles than ever to fight crime and equip themselves with the right tools and training to address 21st century policing issues. As part of an effort to re-assess how policing should be approached today, the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management joined with the National Institute of Justice to host an executive session at Harvard Kennedy School in June 2009.

“The first Executive Session on Policing took place in the 1980s and helped to create the idea of community policing, which changed the face of law enforcement,” said Brian Welch, program administrator, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. “The papers from that session have become a foundation for police executive training across the nation. We hope the new series will have the same impact.”

The first in a series of papers to be released from the conference is a case study by Malcolm Sparrow, professor of practice of public management and former detective chief inspector with the British Police Service. Sparrow wrote a narrative case study titled “One Week in Heron City” about a fictional city and its police department. Sparrow chose to write about a fictional city facing issues that do not “lend themselves to control through standardized crime-prevention programs” and challenge broadly used policing strategies.

“The Heron City case study,” writes Sparrow, “is designed to serve as a basis for discussions regarding: (a) the relationships among a range of current policing strategies, and (b) the nature of analytic support that modern operational policing requires.”

In the case, Sparrow addresses a range of strategic policing techniques with the intention of clarifying the differences between different policing organizational approaches and, he said, to “open up the space between these ideas, so police executives can develop a clear sense of the dangers of standardized and formulaic implementations, which tend to be narrow in scope and suitable only for certain types of problems.”

As well as wanting to help police organizations choose the methods that best suit their needs, Sparrow said he wants to address modern problems and solutions.

“I also hope [the case study] gives them the chance to consider what type of analytic support is now required to support modern 21st century operational policing,” he said. “More subtly, for criminologists, my paper examines some differences between social science methods of inquiry and natural science methods of inquiry, and invites practitioners to consider carefully which they need – and why – in different parts of their operational business.”

The Harvard Kennedy School Criminal Justice Program will continue to publish papers from the executive session over the coming months.

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The Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management joined with the National Institute of Justice to host an executive session at Harvard Kennedy School in June 2009.

“The Heron City case study is designed to serve as a basis for discussions regarding: (a) the relationships among a range of current policing strategies, and (b) the nature of analytic support that modern operational policing requires.” - Malcolm Sparrow

Malcolm Sparrow (left) and Jeremy Travis (right).

At the conference, Malcolm Sparrow (left) speaks with Jeremy Travis (right), President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former director of the National Institute of Justice.