U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Director’s Message: Learning From Leading Voices in Our New "Notes From the Field" Series


Over my first six months as NIJ Director, I have made it a priority to engage with the criminal justice field at conferences, site visits, and other events. I’ve spoken face to face with police chiefs, forensic scientists, medical examiners, prosecutors, and many others working in criminal justice.

One of the most important things I have heard throughout these conversations is that they need timely information to inform their responses to emerging issues — and can’t always wait years for research results to be published.

Those working in the criminal justice system should always use research and evidence to inform their policies, practices, and work. However, leaders often need to make decisions based on limited information and under unpredictable or even volatile circumstances. Sometimes there simply isn’t research available yet to help inform decisions on emerging issues.

With this in mind, I am excited to announce the launch of the new NIJ publication series “Notes From the Field.” This series of articles will discuss innovative approaches to critical issues affecting police departments across the country. I have asked law enforcement executives and other on-the-ground leaders to share some of the most important lessons they have learned from their years of experience. I hope this publication will be a platform for criminal justice leaders to learn about the approaches and strategies their contemporaries have taken to respond to emerging issues.

Considering Civil Disturbance Response

Across the country, law enforcement agencies and officers are committed to safeguarding first amendment rights, but also must protect against a situation in which a demonstration turns violent or spirals out of control. Recent protests, demonstrations, and other events have made civil disturbance an issue heavy in the minds of America’s law enforcement across the country.

In an effort to share various police approaches to civil disturbance, the first series of articles profiles police executives who are taking innovative approaches to civil disturbance, with the goal of giving law enforcement executives a sense of how their contemporaries are considering and approaching the issue.

In the first article, Chief Dan Flynn describes his success using communication as a tool to respond to civil disturbance over the course of more than 40 years of service. He draws from experience that includes organizing rap concerts in Miami in the 1970s and designing a communications campaign around a G-8 summit held in Savannah in the early 2000s.

Read Chief Flynn's article.

In forthcoming articles, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans and former Seattle Police Chief Kathy O’Toole will speak to the tiered approaches their cities have taken to civil disturbance incidents, starting with a soft approach and keeping reinforcements nearby in case a situation escalates. Commissioner Evans and Chief O’Toole stress the importance of open communication and holding an after-action review to learn from every event.

Also in the civil disturbance series, New Orleans Police Commissioner Michael Harrison will discuss how New Orleans handles incidents of civil disturbance through intelligence collection, communication, and heavy investment in human and physical resources. This approach led to the peaceful removal of four controversial monuments in the city last year.

None of the articles are prescriptive or based on empirical research studies, but they do provide an overview of the approach law enforcement leaders are taking to both protect the public and first amendment rights during a civil disturbance.

Responding to America’s Opioid Crisis

Our second “Notes From the Field” series will discuss the approaches that various jurisdictions have taken to America’s opioid crisis, which killed more than 42,000 Americans in 2016, amounting to more than 116 deaths every day.[1]

In this series, Chief Richard S. Biehl speaks from the frontlines of the opioid crisis, discussing how community and public health partnerships and data sharing have been paramount in strengthening the police response in Dayton, Ohio.

Dr. Mallory O’Brien, of the Milwaukee Medical College, talks about the importance of strong data and improving system response to opioid fatalities through all-stakeholder, forward-looking reviews to learn from individual cases — an approach in line with NIJ’s Sentinel Events Initiative.

Research Agency, Research Focus

NIJ remains committed to funding research to help law enforcement and other members of the criminal justice system make informed decisions. Usually, this takes the form of research grants that provide evidence-based findings to inform law enforcement policies and practices. As the research, development, and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice, NIJ exists to help understand what works and what doesn’t work in criminal justice.

“Notes From the Field” is not a research-based publication; rather, it is a platform to provide timely insight on some of the most pressing law enforcement issues in America. All of the topics discussed in the “Notes from the Field” series are issues in which NIJ has invested research funding and will continue to support. The results of NIJ-funded research projects will provide police executives and other criminal justice professionals the data and empirical evidence to inform their policies, practices, and responses to emerging issues. In the meantime, I hope these articles provide criminal justice executives with insight into innovative approaches their contemporaries are taking across the country.