Systematic Observation of Public Police: Applying Field Research Methods to Policy Issues   [open pdf - 203KB]

From the Executive Summary: "This report describes systematic social observation (SSO), a field research method used to study police. This method has shown promise in answering many of the questions regarding how police work is conducted today. […] SSO systematizes field methods for teams of researchers who observe the object of study (in this case, the police) in its natural setting. Researchers record events as they see and hear them and do not rely upon others to describe or interpret events. The researchers follow well-specified procedures that can be duplicated. For example, researchers who wish to record whether officers are respectful to complainants must define 'respectful' and 'complainant' in such a manner that other researchers record these terms in the same way when observing the same and similar situations. […] According to Reiss, the important considerations in conducting SSO include: (1) selection of problems for investigation, (2) preliminary investigation by direct observation, (3) definition of the universe to be observed, (4) sampling for observation, (5) development of instruments to collect and record observations systematically, (6) provision for measuring error, (7) pretesting instruments, (8) organization for direct field observations, (9) processing observations, and (10) quantitative analysis. […] SSO is not without its limitations. It is costly, time-consuming, and dependent upon the cooperation of the police. Special effort must be made to address the reactivity of research subjects to observers and the reliability of observers in recording events. Training, supervision, and quality control in the field are the best ways to manage these problems, but they take planning, time, and money. Given these constraints, SSO seems less feasible as a mechanism for routinely monitoring police practice and better suited to special studies."

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National Criminal Justice Reference Service: https://www.ncjrs.gov/
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