The Early Years | National Police Foundation

The Early Years

A New Paradigm for Police Science (The 1970s and 1980s)

The Police Foundation was established to engage a new paradigm for policing; a scientific approach to understanding real-world problems associated with crime, its management, prevention, as well as the management of police organizations and their personnel.  The idea was to examine how to improve the profession of policing to conform best to the nation’s democratic ideals, while also exercising the rule of law.  In so doing, we set in motion a series of studies designed to address basic patrol functions, staffing, response time, and management of personnel.  Among specific personnel issues in the 1970s were the study of women in policing and the examination of the role of higher education in professionalizing the police.


The Police Profession:  Personnel Issues

In the 1970s, the Police Foundation supported work around the areas of police personnel practices.  Realizing that the professionalization of the police required a focus on personnel issues, the Police Foundation supported and researched issues related to hiring, promotion, police chief selection, developing the skills of police, and measuring performance of personnel. For example, the Police Foundation created the Police Executive Institute to provide executive development training for top police managers, assembled the National Advisory Commission on Higher Education for Police Officers, and established the National Information and Research Center on Women in Policing in response to a growing need for information directly affecting women in law enforcement. Early foundation research proved that gender was not a barrier to carrying out patrol work and confirmed the equal performance of women as law enforcement officers. During that same time, when concerns arose over the qualifications of police personnel, the Police Foundation published a 1975 report on the relationship between height requirements for police and performance.

98It was our early work on women in policing that showed us that women could do as good a job as their male counterparts, despite some lingering negative attitudes about their inclusion in everyday policing functions. While males originally seemed to outperform women in terms of supervisory ratings, and males did not think women were as competent, the public was supportive of women in policing, and women generally performed at the same level as men. Furthermore, women were perceived by their peers as being better at handling sexual assaults.  By the early 1980s, a progress report of women in policing re-affirmed that women could perform equally as well as men, and that women officers received fewer complaints than their male counterparts, despite their styles not varying significantly.

In 1974, the Police Foundation, in cooperation with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Labor Relations Management Service, sponsored a symposium on Police Labor Relations, and published a series of guidelines and papers from it.  The issue of police and labor relations has continued throughout our history.  By the end of the decade, the Police Foundation supported the National Symposium on Higher Education for Police Officers in cooperation with the then National Advisory Commission on Higher Education for Police Officers and the Office of Criminal Justice Education and Training. Proceedings from that symposium were published in 1979.

An innovative approach to hiring and selection used in private industry became the topic for police hiring as highlighted in our publication Selection through Assessment Centers:  A Tool for Police Departments (Reinke, 1977). Selection criteria and hiring have remained an important area of focus for the Police Foundation in terms of hiring those officers reflective of the demographics of their communities, with an appropriate service orientation and associated competencies. In 1976, the Police Foundation published a handbook on police chief selection (Kelly) because we knew that great leadership was important. Over the years, we have also participated in many police chief selection processes.

Police performance and productivity were also the focus of early efforts at the Police Foundation, including an edited book of readings on police productivity (Wolfle & Heaphy, 1975) and a manual on performance appraisal in policing by a leading industrial/organizational psychologist, Frank Landy (1977). This focus on productivity also highlighted our interest in examining new technology, as was evidenced in our report on Police Personnel Management Information Systems:  The Dallas and Dade County Experiences also published in 1977 by another leading industrial/organizational psychologist, Wayne F. Cascio.

As a corollary to effective police performance, Police Foundation work has also focused on corruption and ethics, with the early work of leading policing scholar Herman Goldstein, Police Corruption:  A Perspective on its Nature and Control (1975). The Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, which loosely served as the basis of the recent film “American Hustle” and numerous other films, also resulted in a Police Foundation book Abscam Ethics:  Moral Issues and Deception in Law Enforcement (Caplan, 1983), which highlighted the FBI’s Abscam Investigation of Congress and raised a number of moral questions about police undercover tactics.


The Police Role:  Basic Functions of Police

Among the most widely cited Police Foundation studies, is the early 1970 Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment in which Police Foundation researchers found that random patrol had no marked impact on crime and did not affect community perceptions of safety (Kelling, et al., 1974, 1975). Other questions about patrol continued to emerge, including those related to the number of personnel to assign to a police vehicle. The traditional method of two officers riding together as partners was challenged in a patrol staffing study conducted in San Diego on the impact of one- or two-officer units.  In that Police Foundation study, researchers found that it was just as effective to assign one person to a patrol vehicle as it was to assign two.  Importantly, this showed that, at least in San Diego, one-person vehicles were more efficient, with no apparent increase in safety risks to officers (Boydstun, et al., 1977).

A 1976 report published by the Police Foundation on managing investigations in Rochester, New York, demonstrated that when patrol officers and detectives worked in teams, they were more successful in solving crimes than were those who policed using a traditional approach (Block & Bell, 1976). A 1975 report about the San Diego Field Interrogation study, evaluated by the System Development Corporation, revealed that the practice of field interrogations in San Diego helped deter crimes perpetrated by youth in groups.

Offenders, victims, and the appropriate investigation of crime has also been at the center of questions regarding police practices. For example, in the 1980s, the results of an experimental study of the impact of arrest on re-victimization in domestic violence cases showed that arresting the offenders was associated with reduced victimization. The offenders in the “advise” condition re-offended in the six month period following that initial encounter at almost twice the rate of those in which arrests were made. Those in the “separate the parties” condition re-offended at two and a half times the rate than for those in the “arrest” condition, demonstrating the effectiveness of arrest in reducing re-offending and emphasizing the importance of the police in not just enforcing the law and solving crime but also in preventing it.


Police Behavior and Use of Force

Police restraint in the use of deadly force has been an ongoing concern for the Police Foundation. In 1977, the Police Foundation conducted a literature review and survey of seven major cities and found that while police agencies have wide variation in use-of-force policies related to deadly force, in major cities there appeared to be increased restraint in the police use of firearms.

In 1985, the Police Foundation issued an Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner, which overturned the Tennessee statute authorizing deadly force against unarmed, non-dangerous fleeing suspects unless there is probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a “significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others” (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985)). Work in the area of use of force has continued over time and became the subject of a national survey done in the early 1990s.

Also in the mid-1980s, the Police Foundation launched the Police Liability Program to reduce the exposure of local governments to the costs of defending inadequate and wrongful conduct suits stemming from police actions at the operational and administrative levels. The Police Foundation conducted seminars and workshops for police administrators, legal officers, mayors and city managers, state and county executives, and other government officials.


Crime File:  The 22 Videotape Series

James Q. Wilson moderated a series of 22 videotapes in the mid-1980s that were entitled “Crime File,” supported by the National Institute of Justice.  The topics covered a wide array of criminal justice and policing topics, many still relevant today, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Crime and Biology
  • Crime and Unemployment
  • Deadly Force
  • Death Penalty
  • Domestic Violence
  • Drinking and Crime
  • Exclusionary Rule
  • Foot Patrol
  • Insanity Defense
  • Prison Crowding/Alternatives to Prison
  • Repeat Offenders
  • Search and Seizure
  • Victims


Laying the Groundwork for Community Policing

Much of the work in the 1970s and 1980s led to the community policing movement. For example, in 1972, the Police Foundation supported work in Simi Valley, California, to develop and implement community policing. That same year, we funded research in Dayton, Ohio, to use a citizen–police task force to develop departmental policies. Also in 1972, the Police Foundation’s Team Policing: Seven Case Studies documented the attempts to improve police-community relations and reduce crime through permanently assigned teams of officers to neighborhoods. Further, the Police Foundation’s early experimental research on team policing in Cincinnati (Sherman, et al., 1973) was seen by many as a promising way to address the over-centralization and bureaucratization of police agencies that had further alienated citizens from police.

It was in Kansas City that the Police Foundation conducted a practical test showing that random, preventive patrol might not be the best way to deter crime, paving the way for directed patrol, problem-oriented policing, and more recently, hot spots policing. Indeed, one of the earliest references to community policing occurred in 1975 when the San Diego Police Department announced that it would adopt community-oriented policing on a citywide basis. The decision to undertake this fundamental reform in policing style stemmed from the department’s experience with a study conducted by the Police Foundation, The San Diego Community Profile Development Project. The experiment provided a method and a perspective to guide patrol officers’ exercise of discretion and encouraged the development of innovative officer-initiated strategies based on the officer’s growing knowledge and critical self-evaluation of the efforts of his or her police work in the community.

Through our early work, it quickly became apparent that community expectations played a large role in policing.  For example, in the response time study (Pate, et al., 1976), it was determined that it was not the actual response time that mattered in the public’s satisfaction, but the differences between their expectations and actual response time. Moreover, researchers found that general attitudes toward police were not a result of response time but rather their satisfaction with the responding officer that had an impact on their views. Indeed, across studies in the 1970s and 1980s, it became clear that average citizens expected the police to do more than simply protect them from criminals. In fact, most people called the police for help with matters that were not primarily criminal in nature, and patrol officers spent most of their time doing things besides solving crimes or catching criminals.

Among other frequently cited research in the Police Foundation’s history, the studies in the 1980s on foot patrol and fear reduction in Newark, New Jersey, and Houston, Texas, demonstrated that there are strategies police can use to reduce levels of perceived crime and disorder, reduce attendant fear, heighten satisfaction with police services and neighborhoods, and, in some cases, reduce crime itself.  The “Broken Windows Theory” of policing grew out of findings from the Police Foundation’s Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. These studies collectively affirmed that one-on-one interaction between police and community residents reduced fear about crime and disorder, and that at least in Houston, police-citizen contact also reduced beliefs about police aggressiveness.

In 1987, the Police Foundation’s multi-year research in Madison, Wisconsin, and Baltimore, Maryland, demonstrated how community policing and foot patrol, respectively, could improve officers’ attitudes, as well as citizens’ perceptions about crime and the police.  And yet another study of drug trafficking in Oakland, California, showed that community policing could be effective for controlling street drug traffic, although a subsequent study in Newark, New Jersey, did not reveal crime control benefits (see Newark “Project Homestead” below). Nevertheless, these core scientific findings supported the need for problem solving, an underlying tenet of community policing.

Much of this work culminated in a call for new research at a 1987 conference on community-oriented policing, convened by the Police Foundation with support from the Charles Stewart Mott and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations to encourage the growth of community policing. That conference, known as the first forum ever to address community policing, brought together law enforcement professionals, scholars, and funding organizations.

The Police Foundation’s early research and impact on police thinking is evident in the extent to which a new view of policing—one emphasizing a community orientation—has become part of the conventional wisdom. Today, policing focuses not just on enforcing the law, maintaining order, and preventing crime but also on solving problems, many of which can be positively influenced by community-policing and problem-solving approaches. Subsequent studies in the decades that followed would lead to a greater understanding of the implications of community- and problem-oriented policing, and the need for data to support these approaches.