"The Challenge of Timeliness and Utility in Research and Evaluation" In The
New Criminal Justice
, ed. Klofas, Hippie and McGarrell. Routledge, 2010,
pages 128-131.
There was a time, perhaps until the end of the 1980s, when researchers could
conduct their work in police departments and depart with a cheery “Hope you buy the
book!” But now practitioners in the criminal justice field have grown too sophisticated to
buy into this model of research or evaluation model. Today, they want to know what is
in it for them, during their term of office. At my first presentation to the command staff of
the Chicago Police Department describing plans to evaluate their community policing
initiative, a savvy district commander rose and made his fears clear: we would get in his
way and take up his time, and a book would appear five years later telling everyone
what he did wrong. He did not think this was a good idea. We agreed, but other models
of researcher-practitioner partnerships are a lot of work, and risky. There were
advantages to wearing white lab coats and insisting that we had to keep “hands off.”
Now it is necessary for evaluators to forge two-way relationships with their agency
partners. Evaluators need access and cooperation, and the agencies will demand
some payback for that. They have expectations about how research and evaluation
can help them. What police administrators expect is information that is timely and useful
for them. This paper reflects on my experience in trying to meet these twin
expectations, in projects evaluating policing programs of all kinds, including activities of
undercover narcotics squads and department-wide reorganizations to do community
policing. My message is these are very difficult expectations to meet. Our practitioner
partners may need to develop a fuller understanding of the many important steps
involved in conducting quality research, and how these intersect with the very important
criteria that the findings be timely and useful.