Academic conferences may have value for the criminal justice practitioner--that's you. (iStockphoto)
FEATURED IN TRAINING
From March 10-14, 2009, I attended the annual conference of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, held this year in Boston, Massachusetts . I am a police officer from San Diego, California . When I attended this conference, I attended both as a police officer of 16 years, and as a part-time adjunct college professor for the past two years. I have to say for one of my first academic association-sponsored conferences, I was very impressed. Kudos to the organizers and the ACJS for putting on a great conference and bringing so many of the great minds in criminal justice together in one location to share their research with the community, allowing everyone to learn from the efforts of others.
Many police supervisors are not sure if this is the type of conference that they want to, or should be, sending their people to. What is the mission of associations like the ACJS? The ACJS promotes criminal justice education, research, and policy analysis within the discipline of criminal justice for both educators and practitioners. Conferences like this are an excellent way to bring practitioners and academics together, but why is this important?
When I say "practitioners," I am typically referring to the cops on the street enforcing laws on a daily basis, the social workers dealing with at risk youth every day, the corrections officers working in the prisons, and the probation and parole agents trying to maintain compliance, to name just a few. When I say "academics," I am typically referring to the full- and part-time college professors and professional researchers that teach criminal justice across the country; the ones that evaluate what we as law enforcement officers do and determine if what we are doing is effective.
As a police officer, I like to know that what I am doing is having a real impact on reducing crime in my community. If it is not, maybe we should redirect our limited resources to the programs and projects that are assessed and determined to have a real positive impact.
This conference provided a forum for disseminating ideas related to issues in research, policy, education, and practice within the field. I found it very interesting to hear researchers, officers, and even some students provide details and results of their research. Many of the programs discussed have practical application, regardless of where you reside; attacking a drug market in Chicago or Boston is not unlike a similar campaign in Los Angeles or Seattle. The process of watching the presentations made me think about what we do in my jurisdiction, and gave me ideas about some programs we may want to think about replicating. Why recreate the wheel? If the police in Boston are having success in reducing gun crimes, the cops in Detroit or Washington, DC may find the same strategy beneficial.
Even after watching a presentation that an attendee may find totally irrelevant in their jurisdiction, there is still a benefit. Learning and understanding what is done elsewhere has the effect to increase the critical thinking skills of our officers and increase the professional association and networking between practitioners and academics. I had the opportunity to present in three different forums. The first about the effectiveness of gang injunctions, the second was an assessment of practical gang related training programs, and the last as a fill in on a discussion comparing gang enforcement efforts and strategies in Boston and San Diego , contrasting how police address the same issue on opposing coasts. The three presentations I had the honor of presenting were each 15 minutes in length.
The conference had about 2000 such presentations to choose from. Conference attendees could pick and choose the break out lectures that they found interesting from a very comprehensive catalog that each participant received at registration. Many of the presentations were specific programs from around the country and the world, evaluating program and policy effectiveness.
As a cop, I can see tremendous benefit for the average police officer to understand what active sociologists and researchers are doing to understand crime. I also found it interesting to understand the theoretical foundation for many of the current day programs implemented by law enforcement. I also found it incredibly interesting to meet some people that I may otherwise never get to meet. In fact, I had one very interesting college professor in one of my presentations.
After one of my lectures a female college professor made a comment something to the effect that she thinks all cops are gangsters and thugs and they are the ones that need to go to jail. I responded to her by stating the overwhelming majority of cops are good, hard working, and act in an ethical and professional manner while doing a difficult job. I told her that she should not let a few bad apples spoil the reputation of the profession. She thought I was being defensive. Even though I thought the statement was a bit radical for me, I do appreciate that she shared her perception and opinion. The truth of the matter is not everyone likes the police; not everyone thinks we should be fighting crime and locking people up. Many feel prevention and intervention should take priority over suppression efforts. I think the correct answer to the crime problem is a healthy dose of all of the above. We should attack crime from all conceivable approaches to increase the chances of success.
I recommend all police supervisors give conferences like this serious consideration, for you to attend or approve your officers to attend.