Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014)

Police agencies across the United States face a frightening array of new challenges, yet those agencies are equipped with organizational and strategic frameworks from an earlier era. What's more, they face these challenges at a time of high expectations established over a decade or more of declines in crime, and tight budgets at every level of government. The challenges themselves are many: Some flow from new threats of international terrorism, others involve new forms of crime made possible by the internet and other technologies, and still others are as intangible yet galvanizing as rising fear of crime and feelings of insecurity.

A generation ago policing faced its own set of challenges. The answers in that era were found through the Executive Session on Policing, jointly sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) starting in 1983. The participants in that Executive Session became the police leaders of choice for the next two decades. The papers published as a series called Perspectives on Policing during the course of the last Executive Session became essential reading in thousands of departments and executive offices across the country. The overarching strategy crystallized in that Executive Session - community policing – has become the dominant paradigm for policing across the nation and around the world.

In 2008 NIJ and HKS jointly embarked on an ambitious project – a second Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety. Our Session conversations confirmed beliefs that the challenges faced by policing are vastly different today from those a generation ago. The leadership and scholarship have changed. The demographics of our country and police agencies themselves are substantially different. The operational and managerial challenges are more complicated. The roles of technology, the influence of global crime, terrorism, and corruption have changed the worries and practices of police officers as well as police leaders.

The first phase of this new Executive Session, which ran from 2008-2011, experienced debates about the efficacy of community policing, the main outgrowth of the first executive session, and the challenge of reducing crime and reducing fear while being viewed as legitimate and just by the community. New questions have been raised about the sustainability of community policing as an operational mandate against the pressure created by rigorous counting, the location of crime hotspots in over-policed communities, the growing numbers of prolific offenders who are trying to “re-enter” after prison stints and the continued struggle of race relations and a collapsing economy. We are witnessing new operational strategies, the language of legitimacy and justice-based policing complicate traditional roles of police agencies and officers in communities. All the while police executives struggle with how to accomplish crime reduction and maintain trust simultaneously.

The Session meetings provoked scholars and practitioners to collaborate on a new series of papers that hope to influence the field in the way the earlier series did. The series of papers from the 21st century Executive Session is called New Perspectives in Policing.

In Phase I, seven meetings between January 2008 and January 2011, we heard participants pose questions about the future of policing - the role and activities of officers and executives as well as the definition of police operations in the future were identified as priority conversations. The responsibility of police executives with political leaders to redefine mission with a specific ambition of reducing incarceration while reducing crime and fear was raised. Finally, all agree there remains much work to be done around race – both inside the police department and with communities. Other fascinating topics remain unexplored and we hope that in Phase II, which will be in session from 2011 to 2014, we can complete not only the unfinished conversations but also contribute to the body of published scholarship on these topics deemed critical to all stakeholders of police.

Reflections on this Executive Session

"I'm delighted to see the release of the final paper in the current Perspectives Series. In it Anthony Braga surveys what we've learned about the practical challenge of crime control over the last 30 years, and describes the specific ways in which the themes and focus areas explored in this most recent Executive Session served to fill in many of the gaps in knowledge and experience that were left after the original executive session concluded back in 1991. 

More broadly, I believe that NIJ and Harvard, as co-sponsors of the Executive Session, should be proud of the collection of 23 papers that make up the 'New Perspectives in Policing' series. The Executive Session process from which they spring has been described as a 'crucible' – where academics and senior practitioners are forced to work together over a protracted period (in this case spanning 6 years). Practitioners are forced to grapple with theory and conceptual analysis, and to be more rigorous in examining their own experiences and assumptions; academics are forced to be relevant, practical, and current, and to present their ideas in a manner accessible to practitioners. It is a serious challenge for both sides.

The 23 papers in this series – many of them jointly authored by practitioners and academics working together – constitute a unique kind of contribution to the literature and to the law enforcement profession. As joint sponsors of the project with NIJ, we (at HKS PCJ) very much hope police leaders will find here a rich and enduring source of understanding and inspiration as they seek to advance their profession." 

– Malcolm Sparrow, Professor of the Practice of Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School


Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice

New Perspectives in Policing

Download a two-page index of this series (9/15)

 Download publications from this series