Using research to be a better officer & agency
with Dr. Brian Kinnaird
Why Do I Need To Do Research?
Greetings fellow colleagues! Let’s look into the question of research in terms of its value in our profession. Research, for all intents and purposes, is the study of an issue, problem, or subject. It discovers both answers as well as the creation of new questions. Through research, we ask questions like, “How do we come to believe what caused crime to decline in New York? What evidence supports those beliefs?” Or “Should we believe the experts? How about the politicians? Why or why not?” Our research efforts, in general, are centered on two basic activities: measurement and interpretation. As a researcher, you MEASURE aspects of REALITY and then draw conclusions about the meaning of those measurements. Yes, all of us are observing all the time, but measurement refers to something more rigorous and deliberate. Our interpretation is based largely on how we analyze data but, more generally, on how our observations are structured. When we put these two pieces together (measurement and interpretation), we are in better position to DESCRIBE, EXPLAIN, or PREDICT something!
Let’s look at research as being divided into two forms: applied and basic. As officers and trainers, probably the most useful type of research is applied. The result with applied research is PRACTICAL APPLICATION. In other words, we collect and analyze data regarding a particular issue or problem so that the results may influence CHANGE. For example, one might ask, “Is the program, policy, or procedure doing what it was meant to do?” Consider a community policing program, a policy on handcuffing, response times, job satisfaction or a procedure for investigating use of force incidences. If it isn’t doing what it was meant to do, we might ask, “How is it deficient?” “How can it be improved?” “Should it be continued as is, changed, or discontinued?”
Basic research (or pure research) asks questions that may offer little impact on immediate outcomes or promise of direct relevance. Basic research is concerned with acquiring new information for the sole purpose of developing scholarship in the field or to create avenues for what will become APPLIED research. Such questions involving basic research would be “How big is the issue or problem?” “Whom or what does the issue or problem affect?” “What causes the issue or problem?” Basic research leads to theories that end up guiding the actions of lawmakers, police, courts, and corrections.
How Do I Get Started?
Regardless of the intent of your research (applied or basic), specific steps are applicable to each. Five (5) primary steps encompass what is typically called the scientific method. While it may vary a bit by name from source to source, these five steps are central to any investigation and, chances are, you’ve been doing it all of your life!
Step 1: Identifying the problem
What are you going to be studying? Determining the issue, problem, or policy to be studied provides the groundwork for the rest of your research. Embarking on the study of crime, per se, would be too general for most research purposes but focusing on a type, cause, or punishment related to crime would provide a workable focus.
Step 2: Research Design
The design is the “blueprint” As will be explained in additional columns; there are several designs that can be utilized in law enforcement research:
Survey Research: obtaining data directly from the targeted source such as in self-administered or interview questionnaires.
Field Research: gathering data through firsthand observations of the target.
Experimental Research: like field research, this is conducted by observations, however, research stimuli is administered to participants in a controlled environment.
Case Studies: one of the simplest methods of research, case studies utilize reviews and analyses of such things as police reports or court records.
Content Analysis: documents, publications, or presentations are reviewed and analyzed.
Step 3: Data Collection
This step is the key component to the research design and includes such methods as surveys, interviews, observations, and previously existing data.
Step 4: Data Analysis
The often mundane but critically important statistics makes up the data analysis component through the use of a computer and software.
Step 5: Reporting
The last phase of your research project is the reporting of the findings. This can be accomplished through reports, journals, books, or computer presentations (depending on the audience).
Summarily, conducting research goes beyond just looking up material on a subject and writing a proposal or paper. You must also understand what research is, why it is, and how it might be conducted. There is much to come from your role as researcher in law enforcement. It will bring very important questions, answers, debates, and issues. My next column will examine the primary reasons for conducting research in your quest for knowledge as well as place the scientific method into a tangible work template! Stay safe.