“Using Community Surveys to Study Policing,” in Michael Reisig and Rob Kane (Eds.),
The Oxford Handbook of Police and Policing. New York and London: Oxford
University Press, 2014, 449-470.
Surveys of the community have become a key police research tool. Police form the “front line”
of the criminal justice system. During the course of the day they primarily interface with the
general public rather than with hard-core off enders or other system professionals, and they
draw more attention from voters and taxpayers than any other aspect of local government.
Some of what they do and many of the consequences of their actions are best examined from
the point of view of the public rather than via agencies’ internal records, and these issues
shape the content of police-community surveys.
Section 20.1 of this essay reviews the purposes of police-community surveys, which include
assessing public concerns, monitoring the routine delivery of police services, evaluating
innovative programs, and deepening our understanding of the relationship between police and
the community in democratic societies. Section 20.2 then addresses the substance of the
surveys. Th is section reviews the key concepts that have been examined using police-
community surveys, how they have been measured, and some of what the surveys have
found. Section 20.3 discusses selected methodological issues that need to be considered
when planning a survey. Th ese include how respondents will be selected and interviews
conducted, the size of the survey samples that are required, and whether cross-sectional or
longitudinal surveys are more appropriate for the task at hand. Section 20.4 concludes with a
few practical recommendations for addressing the key issues raised in the essay.