Policing in the United States is in the midst of an intense period of external criticism, internal self-reflection, challenge, and change. Homicides have increased 22% in the past two years after decades of steady declines. Aggressive use of police force, frequently captured on video and publicized via social media, has generated civil unrest in many cities and has spurred an intense national debate concerning the appropriate nature and role of law enforcement in society. To date, this public conversation has been dominated mostly by political ideology and advocacy, with scientific inquiry receiving relatively short shrift. Arguments, not evidence, have generally carried the day.
In this course, students will examine contemporary policing practices in the context of two major public policy objectives: the maintenance of public safety, primarily through the reduction of violent crime, and the promotion of legitimacy, mostly as a matter of community trust and confidence. The course will approach these issues through the lens of evidence-informed policymaking. Using the best and most rigorous research available, students will be encouraged to consider concrete solutions to the myriad problems confronting policing today. Timely topics such as proactive policing, police use of force, racial profiling, and others will be addressed. Essential questions of perceived and actual police legitimacy will be identified and explored. Students will be trained to approach these issues from the perspective of a senior policymaker who is interested in concrete change and measureable results. Students will exit the course with a sophisticated understanding of the current state of practice in this crucial policy area.