CRF Blog

Building a Better Police Department

by Bill Hayes

In Building a Better Police Department, Bloomberg Businessweek asks what would a department look like if we could build the ideal one.

Today, there are 18,500 police departments in the country, and most have fewer than 10 members. They aren’t required to talk to each other, and in many cases, they fail to learn from one another’s mistakes — and successes. “We have national standards for doctors, for attorneys,” says John DeCarlo, a former police chief of Branford, Conn., and now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Why not have them for the only members of society who are authorized to use force and violence?” DeCarlo imagines a national oversight body, made up of social scientists, police officers, union representatives, and community activists, housed in the Department of Justice. It would mandate basic standards for everything from the selection and training of officers to the treatment of suspects. It would also help bring scientific rigor to police methods, which haven’t kept up with the research literature. Take patrolling: A controlled study in Kansas City, Mo., in the early 1970s found that routine patrols neither cut down on crime nor comforted the community. Officers on patrol were, for the most part, just passing the time waiting for a call to come in. Forty years later, patrolling is still what police officers spend most of their time doing. [more]