Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thoughts on researching police

Photo by Oppaints at English Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

by Tarah Hodgkinson


It is difficult to discuss community safety without discussing the police. That means we need unbiased research about how they operate. For example, Jerome Skolnick’s book Justice Without Trial (1966) and William Westley’s 1950s research looked inside the police blue wall. They spent months studying officers as they did their jobs, observing them where they worked and interviewing them in the field - a rare style of research called ethnography.

While much research exists on policing in North America, there are few in-depth ethnographic studies. This is happening at a time when, as police scholar Monique Marks suggests, large scale changes in policing demands in-depth and objective knowledge on how this change is occurring and where it should be headed. She reminds us that most of our understanding of the underlying processes in these organizations relies on out-dated studies.

OPEN POLICE?

Why do so few take on ethnographic policing research? This is largely a result of university research budget constraints and the pressure to publish in academia. Ethnographic studies take a significant amount of time and resources, and may only result in a few publications. There is also a concern that police organizations are not open to research, a perception not completely unfounded. However, in my PhD research, that has not been my experience.

Most police organizations I researched rolled out the welcome mat. I was brought in by all levels of management with varying levels of experience. They were eager to hear about my research goals, connect potential research participants and even come in during their vacation to participate.

Toronto bicycle police officers in Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto.
Photo by Ian Muttoo (Creative Commons)


Perhaps the world of policing is changing and with it the players? Police leaders are more educated than ever before and increasingly understand and value the research skills outsiders offer. But it may also be because my research goals appear relatively benign.

OPENNESS TO RESEARCH?

In fact, some police organizations are less open to certain kinds of research. One obvious example is research that has potential to investigate problematic behaviour or portray police in a negative light. Unsurprisingly, officers continue to be reluctant to disclose everything to an outside researcher. As one constable stated “We are going to hold things back. If we don’t know you, we aren’t going to spill our guts on the first round. We need to know we can trust you.” 

Trust is essential in the policing world, as characterized by another interviewee who said “you get lied to constantly. Every day! Multiple times a day. You learn to hold back and question everything.”

This openness to research, but only certain types of research, often results in simple and descriptive conclusions that fail to critique or innovate. Much more interesting, and promising, are those able to spend time to build the trust necessary to see behind the curtain of the policing world – and not lose their objectivity in the process.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Integrative crime prevention - treating social ills

The physical sciences break down parts of the world
into small bits for experimentation
by Mateja Mihinjac

Criminologists like to compare crime prevention to disease treatment. The evidence-based proponents, specifically, point out that by failing to adopt the same rigorous scientific method used in medicine to inform policy and practice, criminology lags 150 years behind medical science. However, what these proponents miss is that advances in preventive medicine have moved beyond the traditional understanding of causes and treatment of diseases, also known as allopathic medicine. Today many forms of medical practice are evolving into integrative medicine.

CURE: A ONE SIZE FITS ALL APPROACH?

Prior blogs on ethics and going to the doctor have discussed the poor suitability of methods from physics for studying a complex social phenomena such as crime. This issue is further exacerbated by research that breaks problems into small bits for study – the reductionist approach – and attempts to generalize from those isolated findings.

Generalising from reductionist studies is even more problematic given that the complex environments where crime flourishes tend to mediate the impact of prevention outcomes. For this reason, artificial intelligence expert Jim Manzi is skeptical that an experimental revolution in social science will prove fruitful in addressing intricate social issues.

TREATMENT: INTEGRATIVE CRIME PREVENTION

With little success in treating chronic and complicated diseases using the allopathic model, integrative medicine emerged. Integrative medicine goes beyond simply treating symptoms, but rather deals with underlying factors in a holistic and partnership fashion. Patients assume ownership of their health while under the guidance and support of a health practitioner. Together they devise individualized treatment from a wide range of approaches that deal with a person’s complete physical, mental and social well-being. The ultimate goal is addressing root causes.

Problems like crime are complex and have many roots in the social ecosystem
In criminology, many so-called evidence-based programs use reductionist experiments with little success. Therefore translating an integrative health care model into crime prevention means that we should be moving away from reductionist approaches and thinking more broadly about creating holistic and sustainable programs for individuals and their communities.

We need to identify multiple approaches that can work together towards achieving immediate prevention outcomes and also address the root causes of crime problems. This means that crime prevention professionals and researchers need to approach the problem by working together in an integrated way to fit solutions to the context, economy and politics of each neighborhood. Further, criminologists need to work with community members in such a way that promotes a two-way exchange of knowledge and a promotion of local ownership over problems.

SafeGrowth safety audits in Sacramento - criminologists, planners, and police
partnering with residents to create tailor-made solutions
It seems unjust to denounce current criminological methods as outdated because they lack the same scientific rigor of medical science (which itself is evolving). Instead, we should acknowledge advances made in integrative based medicine.

Crime prevention neglects these breakthrough developments and continues to believe that solutions grounded in reductionist forms of the scientific method will yield universal responses to unique problems. Instead, by drawing from the evolution of medical science into integrative medicine, integrative crime prevention offers a more fruitful path for our future work.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Bladerunner future? Art reflects life

The cyberpunk architecture of downtown Shibuya, Tokyo - photo guwashi
by Gregory Saville

Last week the sci-fi film Bladerunner 2049 opened worldwide to rave reviews. In artistic circles, this is known as exceptional neo-noir filmmaking, or more accurately 80s style cyberpunk. Bladerunner 2049 follows the original Bladerunner film from 1982, now considered a masterpiece. It is based on a book by award-winning sci-fi writer, the late Philip K. Dick.

Dick’s themes included dystopian futures, authoritarian corporations, and government conspiracies. Bladerunner occurs on a future Earth poisoned from environmental collapse where cops (Bladerunners) are assigned as bounty hunters to search and eliminate a minority group of human-like androids called Replicants. Written 50 years ago, Dick’s tale foreshadows the environmental crisis, immigrant-purging, social turbulence, and police violence on our streets today. In short, he nailed it!

ART REFLECTS LIFE

For evidence, take a look at the street architecture of the future Los Angeles in Bladerunner and compare that with what is emerging in our biggest cities. Art, clearly, reflects life!

The neo-noir electrification of New York's Times Square - photo DB Desktop Background

Very seldom are artistic and cultural movements restricted to galleries and magazines. Even the most outrageous art and music seep out into politics, daily life and, most importantly, ways of thinking. That is because artistic and cultural movements do not arise on their own; they are a reaction to - or against - current affairs. That is why they are a barometer of things to come.

Consider how 1960s counter-culture morphed into environmentalism, civil rights, and equality for women, concepts in common parlance today. Or consider the artistic movement called modernism in the early 20th Century that evolved into the International Congress of Modern Architecture and the global planning disaster we now call urban sprawl.

Pruitt-Igoe, the 1960s modernist housing disaster in St. Louis became a rallying cry by
Oscar Newman and Jane Jacobs against crime and modernism in urban planning
- photo US Geological Survey

Bladerunner is art that tells a story: Philip K. Dick’s cyberpunk story of urban dystopia! For real-life examples look carefully at the cores of our most modern cities to see the worship of architectural cyberpunk.

If this analogy holds, then what about last week’s horrific mass murder in Las Vegas, the on-going trouble with police shootings, political turbulence, and environmental disasters of late? Are they signals that the Bladerunner story is unfolding as predicted? Never has there been a more appropriate time for a better model of neighborhood safety and urban growth.

Dundas Square, cyberpunk in Toronto
- photo by Pedro Szekely CC by 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 16, 2017

No need to pave paradise with these bike parking lots

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tarah Hodgkinson

Making streets safer means activating them with all kinds of tactics, including intensified bicycle usage. In 2012 the SafeGrowth blog How the Dutch Saved Their City, described how the Dutch transformed their cities by dramatically changing their road infrastructure and supporting cycling culture. Today, there are almost 900,000 bikes in Amsterdam alone, making it the country with the highest rate of bike ownership in the world.

Lately, however, Amsterdam is dealing with an interesting issue. With over 50% of Amsterdam residents using bikes as part of their daily commute, they are running out of space to park their bikes. In fact, the city is now planning on creating 40,000 new parking spots. This issue not only speaks to the significant commitment the Dutch have made to make their city streets safer and more bike friendly but has sparked an opportunity for architectural creativity.

PARKING ALTERNATIVES

Unlike many cities in North America, with their sprawling, car-dominated cultures, space is a significant commodity in much of Europe. Some suggestions for bike parking alternatives include underwater garages and floating barges.

However, these alternatives could pose cost and space restrictions. Therefore, bike parking in Amsterdam has begun to move upwards, rather than outwards. Impressively, architects are building vertical bike parking structures. These mimic many of the new designs for vertical car parking in countries across the world, but with an eco-friendly and street safety twist.

With limited space, the Dutch innovate
There is a lot of hesitation among cities to switch to create large-scale bike paths and alternative transportation. Many fear that bike paths will impede the flow of car traffic and increase congestion.

This notion is counterintuitive. In Vancouver the bike path network is constantly expanding, and with it, so too are the number of bike trips replacing car trips.

That reduces congestion, not the opposite. The attempt to build new and creative ways to park bikes in Amsterdam demonstrates that the bike culture in that city, and other cities in the Netherlands, is going strong. It offers excellent ideas for helping other cities to start rethinking their systems.