By Charles Wellford, Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, and Cochair, IACP Research Advisory Committee; Ronal Serpas, Chief of Police, Nashville, Tennessee, Metro Police Department, and Cochair, IACP Research Advisory Committee; John Firman, Research Center Director, IACP; and Lieutenant Wendy Clark, United States Capitol Police, and IACP Visiting Fellow
n November 2004, the IACP amended its constitution to allow for the creation of a new committee: the Research Advisory Committee (RAC). The purpose of this new committee is to help guide the IACP and its partners in identifying and conducting law enforcement policy research on the most important issues facing police executives. To direct the committee’s efforts, the IACP president appointed leaders from both academia and active law enforcement to cochair the committee: Dr. Charles Wellford, professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland; and Ronal Serpas, chief of police in Nashville, Tennessee. In collaboration with the IACP president, representatives of a wide range of disciplines were selected to serve on the committee. The objective of the committee is to bridge the interests of academics and police leaders and create actionable research. A primary focus of the RAC is to integrate quality research and analysis of emerging critical issues that police leaders can use to make informed decisions on policies and procedures.
Partnership with the National Institute of Justice
During the formation of the RAC, the IACP held simultaneous discussions with the leadership at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Department of Justice, to determine the possibility of an ongoing partnership between the IACP and NIJ centering on RAC initiatives. The NIJ expressed a high degree of interest, since one of the RAC’s goals is to develop the national law enforcement research agenda (NLERA). The NIJ recognized significant potential in the NLERA to help guide the institute’s decisions on funding future solicitations to support law enforcement research in the United States. As such, the NIJ offered to support the first year of RAC activities through a grant. As a result of the success of the RAC so far and its target initiatives for the next year, the NIJ has already approved a continuation grant to further strengthen this partnership.
RAC Action Agenda
The RAC cochairs and members have set an aggressive agenda for the upcoming year and have already made significant progress in many areas. Next year’s agenda includes the following priority actions.
Creating a national law enforcement research agenda. Crafting an agenda of priorities needing research attention from the IACP; the NIJ; or federal, state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies is vital to the overall success of the RAC.
Promoting police-researcher partnerships. Helping police leaders build effective and sustainable policy research partnerships with neighboring universities can only improve the quality of research performed under the RAC’s guidance.
Inaugurating an IACP Excellence in Police Research Award. The RAC will seek a sponsor to help develop and support an annual award recognizing law enforcement agencies that conduct and use research to enhance policies and performance.
Providing advice and support to the IACP Research Center Directorate. By reviewing and commenting on proposals submitted to funding agencies, the committee ensures that the IACP is addressing issues of priority to law enforcement. In addition, the committee will review the final reports emerging from the Research Center Directorate.
Conducting field surveys to identify pressing research issues. At varying intervals, the RAC will survey IACP members and other law enforcement officials to gain their perspective on hot-button research and policy concerns.
Soliciting ideas. The committee will establish a method or reaching out to other law enforcement organizations to solicit ideas for the NLERA and other aspects of the RAC’s work.
Identifying current research concerns. By conducting surveys, the committee can determine the most pressing research concerns of law enforcement executives.
Research Advisory Committee Mission
The committee shall provide input, advice, and direction to the association, law enforcement practitioners, law enforcement researchers, and the criminal justice system on all aspects of law enforcement policy research and evaluation.
The committee will attend to the following tasks:
- Work toward the goal of establishing and sustaining effective research partnerships among law enforcement agencies and organizations and the research community. Special attention will be given to identifying examples that demonstrate the importance of such partnerships (especially with university based researchers) and to preparing intermittent reports to the field on law enforcement/research partnerships that are especially noteworthy.
- Prepare for the association an annual law enforcement research agenda.
- Develop strategies to improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to receive grants to support research included in that agenda.
- Review and provide advice on the law enforcement research activities of the National Institute of Justice and other agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Support and/or help design educational sessions at the IACP conference and other conferences on law enforcement research findings and impact.
2007 Priorities Survey
The most critical action the RAC has taken to date is the completion of a statistically representative survey of IACP members identifying their research priorities. To complete this critical task, the IACP contracted for the services of Hollander, Cohen, and McBride (HCM) Marketing Research of Baltimore, Maryland. The survey was initially tested in October 2006 at the annual IACP conference in Boston, Massachusetts, where the researchers sought to identify broad categories of research topics that members attending the conference considered important. Using the broad categories that emerged from this data collection as a guide, HCM undertook a survey of IACP members. All survey data were gathered electronically, using a Web-based design.
The IACP supplied the survey sample to HCM, which included 5,887 IACP member e-mail addresses. In order for members to be eligible for participation in the survey, they had to be active IACP members with a particular agency code indicating their status as agency heads, and they had to be willing to receive e-mail from the IACP.
HCM sent an e-mail invitation to the 5,887 IACP members on Thursday, April 5, 2007, and one reminder message on Tuesday, April 10, 2007. The survey closed on Friday, April 13, 2007. The overall response rate was 18 percent. With a total sample of 1,000 responses, results can be projected to the target market within a range of ±3 to 5 percentage points, with a 95 percent confidence interval. Surveys were stratified into 25 quota groups proportional to the IACP membership, based on agency size (number of sworn employees) and region. The number of surveys obtained for each quota group is shown in table 1.
From a comprehensive list of possible research or policy priorities, respondents were asked to rate the eight most important (“very important”) law enforcement issues.
At the May 2007 RAC midyear meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, RAC members had an opportunity to review and comment on the survey and its findings. Through the survey instrument, police leaders indicated that they needed sufficient talent; capabilities; and resources (leadership, training, technology, funding, and staffing) to manage their agencies adequately and/or effectively (policies and procedures), provide safety for their citizens (crime response), and gather and share useful knowledge with their fellow agencies (intelligence and information). RAC members also noted the close grouping of percentages among the top eight issues, which were rated by 94 percent to 99 percent of respondents as “very important” (see table 2).
When survey responses were drilled down, the analysis provided additional insight into each of the top eight issues, providing the RAC with critical information on what aspects of each top issue were most important to them (see table 3).
Creating a National Law Enforcement Research Agenda
The preliminary issues deemed important in the survey establish the principal work of the RAC in creating a national law enforcement research agenda for use by the IACP, the NIJ, and the law enforcement community. The survey results also serve as baseline data for future agenda development. RAC members recognize that the agenda must be flexible and comprehensive—since the concerns of agencies will differ radically across regions, by type of agency, and by size of agency. RAC members also note that the agenda needs to be able to address newly emergent issues, remaining at the cutting edge of research while addressing issues that are well documented but continue to trouble police leaders—for example, researching the adjustment of returning combat veterans to either new or resumed careers in policing.
The RAC will release its first national research agenda at the 2007 annual IACP conference in New Orleans. While the agenda will clearly continue to be a work in progress, RAC members feel it is critically important to use the knowledge of the committee and the results from the survey to create a research priority list that will promote both discussion and action by federal, state, county, local, and tribal law enforcement officials.
Future Committee Activities
The committee currently has several activities under way to further its mission, including the following:
- Creating and releasing the first national law enforcement research agenda at the 2007 annual IACP conference
- Finalizing plans for an RAC Excellence in Police Research Award, obtaining a sponsor for the award program, and holding the first awards ceremony at the 2008 annual IACP conference in San Diego
- Continuing to promote research partnerships between the academic and law enforcement communities, in particular continuing to disseminate the IACP companion policy documents on this issue
- Revising, updating, and completing a new RAC survey of law enforcement research priorities to a broader range of police agencies beyond IACP membership
- Providing ongoing advice and support to the IACP Research Center Directorate regarding new initiatives and ongoing research efforts
The RAC is quickly obtaining an established and important standing within the IACP’s committee and section structure. For more information about this committee, or to suggest issues it should address, please contact John Firman, IACP Research Center Director, at 1-800-THE-IACP, extension 207, or via e-mail at email@example.com.■