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Systematic Observation of Public Police: Applying Field Research Methods to Policy Issues

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 1998
55 pages
Publication Series
This report describes systematic social observation (SSO), a field research method, and its use in studying police.

In SSO, researchers record events as they see them and do not rely upon others to describe or interpret events. Researchers follow well-specified procedures that can be duplicated. SSO offers many advantages for gathering and analyzing information on police at work. It can be designed to suit very specific information needs and does not rely upon the recordkeeping accuracy, candor, or recall of those being observed. It offers a scope and depth of data seldom available through official records and survey questionnaires. However, it is costly, time-consuming, and dependent upon the cooperation of the police. It requires special effort to address the reactivity of research subjects to observers and the reliability of observers in recording events. Training, supervision, and quality control in the field are the best ways to manage these problems, but they take planning, time, and money. Given these constraints, SSO seems less feasible as a mechanism for routinely monitoring police practice and better suited to special studies. Tables, notes

Date Published: December 1, 1998