Vol. 2 No. 9 (February 1998) pp. 95-97.

WHAT WORKS IN POLICING by David H. Bayley (Editor).  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 248 pp. Paper $19.95. ISBN 0-19-510821-3.

Reviewed by Craig Hemmens, Department of Criminal Justice Administration, Boise State University, <chemmens@claven.idbsu.edu>.

What works? This question has long bedeviled criminal justice practitioners and scholars. David Bayley, a noted police scholar, has produced an edited volume of significant research on what works (and doesn’t) in policing. WHAT WORKS IN POLICING is the fourth volume in a new series from Oxford University Press. Each volume in the series is devoted to one aspect of the criminal justice system. In this book, Bayley has two goals: to illustrate for the student/consumer of research (1) what works in policing; and (2) what works in evaluation research. Bayley provides an introduction to each article, highlighting its findings and research methodology. The book is intended as a reader for a graduate or advanced undergraduate class in criminal justice. It would serve equally well in a policing class or a research methods class. This feature alone makes the book noteworthy, as few edited readers in criminal justice provide students with a combination of findings and methods.

While criminal justice agencies have existed for several centuries, the study of criminal justice activity is a relatively young science. The ten articles in WHAT WORKS IN POLICING span the contemporary research period, from 1974 to 1995. Eight different aspects of the police function are evaluated. The public expects the police to accomplish several tasks, including crime prevention, crime investigation, and public service. Before one can determine what works, one must determine what the police are capable of doing. That is what the authors of these ten articles have attempted to do. Some of the research included in this book has been strongly criticized, some has received support, and some has had a direct and immediate impact on policy decisions and crime control strategies.

Chapter One contains an article dealing with the relationship between police strength and crime rate. Economic theory posits that more police means less crime, and that increases in police force size are a direct consequence of increases in crime. A study of the police and crime in Detroit between 1926 and 1977 indicates there is no such relationship. This article has had a significant impact on policing, as it seriously weakened the argument that more police means less crime. This argument, while intuitively appealing, is apparently untrue.

Chapter Two focuses on the most common police activity, random patrol. A portion of the famous Kansas City Preventive Patrol study is reprinted. This study found that neither increasing nor decreasing police patrols had a noticeable effect on crime rate or public fear of crime. This is also a counterintuitive finding, as one might expect a more visible police presence to both deter criminals and reduce public fear of criminal victimization. While the study’s research methodology has been criticized, it is credited with providing the impetus for community policing, the current trend in policing.

Chapter Three includes an article examining police response time. A long-held assumption was that faster police response to calls for service translates into more crimes solved and happier citizens. A study of police response in St. Louis revealed that faster police response did not lead to more crimes being solved. This was because citizens often wait too long to call police, so that even an immediate response is too late. The study provided justification for increased screening and grading of calls for service, allowing police to concentrate on answering the most important calls first. The study also revealed that citizens could accept a delay in police response if informed by dispatchers that police responded in order of the severity of calls.

Chapter Four examines the investigation of crime. Two studies indicate that police investigation techniques and methods have relatively little effect on case clearance rates. The more important factors are the amount of information provided to police by witnesses, and the quality of the initial report made by a patrol officer. Detectives spend much of their time filling out paperwork and chasing down leads that go nowhere. These findings did not surprise police agencies, who have long been aware of the limits on investigation, but did shock the public, conditioned by police shows in which the cops always get their man. These findings led to calls for greater citizen involvement with the police, as a means of increasing the likelihood of solving crimes.

Chapter Five examines community policing, a current trend in policing. One article examines the implementation of community policing in Australia, while a second article examines community policing in Madison, Wisconsin. Bayley notes that one of the difficulties in evaluating community policing is defining the term--it means different things to different departments. The Madison experiment is an excellent example of a well-implemented program. Community policing grew out of the earlier studies of policing which suggested traditional police functions were not being achieved and that the police needed to involve the community.

Chapter Six looks at police methods of enforcing the laws. While police work has traditionally been reactive in nature, there have been calls for the police to be more proactive in fighting crime. This is sometimes referred to as "problem-oriented" policing, as the police focus on problems specific to their jurisdiction. The article in this chapter examines an attempt by Kansas City police to increase the number of illegal guns seized, in an effort to reduce gun-related crimes. The results indicate such concentrated efforts do reduce crime, but come at a high cost in manpower and resources.

Chapter Seven focuses on another form of problem-oriented policing sometimes referred to as "hot spot policing." A study of police efforts to crack down on street-level drug dealing in Newark, New Jersey found that police could reduce such crimes, and that counter to the findings of previous studies, such efforts did not simply displace crime to adjacent areas, but resulted in an overall reduction in crime.

Chapter Eight examines the police role in domestic assault cases. A study of differential police responses to domestic assault calls suggested that arresting the abusive spouse actually led an increase in violence in the long term. This study has been severely criticized, and subsequent replication did not support its general conclusions. Nonetheless it is a fitting conclusion to the book, as it exemplifies the impact that research on police practices can have on development of policy, and it reveals the importance of careful research design.

Bayley notes in his introduction that Goethe’s criteria for criticism of literature applies equally well to criticism of social science research: the critic should evaluate the product on the basis of what the author was trying to do--how well did he do it, and was it worth doing? Applying these principles to WHAT WORKS IN POLICING, Bayley has succeeded admirably in his endeavors. He has produced a book that provides students with a wonderful introduction to both current research on policing and the techniques for evaluating social science research. The articles on the various police functions make for fascinating reading, and provide wonderful illustrations of how to conduct research in a criminal justice setting.

There are some limitations to the book, however. While the choice of articles is excellent, and the commentary provided is helpful in illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of each piece, the book does suffer somewhat in presentation. There are a number of glaring typographical errors that detract from the substance of the book. This is a minor point, however, and one that could be easily corrected in future editions.

Bayley also is forced, by page constraints, to limit the number of articles presented. While he has selected outstanding articles, he has been forced to omit many others worthy of inclusion. He notes several of these in his introduction to each section, but the curious reader is left with little guidance as to where to go for more. An annotated bibliography of selected readings for each aspect of the police function would add value to the book, and provide the student reader with the opportunity to pursue his or her particular area of interest.

Another issue that deserves greater attention is the issue of policy evaluation research funding. Bayley mentions that many of the studies on policing are funded by law enforcement-related institutions, or at the behest of the police. This raises the twin issues of the neutrality of the researcher, who at times may become more advocate than scholar, and the impoverishment of the research agenda, guided as it so often is by policy rather than theoretical concerns. More attention could be paid these concerns, which are often overlooked by students.

Despite these concerns, WHAT WORKS IN POLICING makes an excellent supplemental text for either a class in contemporary policing or research methods. It introduces the student to important issues in both policing and research methods, and its limitations can be dealt with by the instructor. I recommend it highly.

Copyright 1998