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Director's Message: Policing Strategic Research 2017-2022


During my tenure at the National Institute of Justice, numerous high-profile incidents across the nation have illustrated the dangers and challenges of policing in the United States. The rigors of policing have become complicated by the expanding roles of the police that require officers to protect the nation against foreign and domestic threats; combat and deter crime; and respond to calls for service from the public. At the same time, the police have been subjected to unprovoked and premeditated attacks and hostility from various members of the community that they are sworn to protect. All of these factors have resulted in a broader discussion involving the need to support policing through science.

The challenges facing police officers today require evidence-based research that will advance police operations and practices. Through this strategic policing plan, we are focusing on promoting research that will provide the police with knowledge and tools that will support their workforce; promote better policing practices; protect officers; and support effective strategies designed and implemented to fight crime. Additionally, this strategic plan represents a call to the research community to provide policymakers and practitioners with the evidence they need to improve police practices, both internally and in the context of the community, and to provide police officers with effective tools that can protect them from harm and keep our nation safe.

Given the current discussions surrounding policing, NIJ understands the need for a comprehensive research plan that addresses a variety of research areas. In addition to research needed to support the police workforce through better hiring, recruiting, retention, and training of police officers, it is also necessary to develop a body of knowledge to understand how agencies can implement systems to advance police performance and adopt effective strategies to fight crime. Finally, a knowledge base should also be developed to better understand how policing practices can be initiated to promote strong engagements with community residents and support the delivery of policing services.

NIJ’s longstanding history in supporting rigorous efforts to address issues confronting police executives and their officers, through this strategic plan, will build evidence that will contribute to a better understanding of policing; advance science needed to inform policymakers; and improve police-community relationships. By developing this policing research agenda, NIJ will build on its previous investments in policing; explore areas that will focus on effective and efficient policing; and promote community engagement and collaborations with other stakeholders to improve policing.

Such a comprehensive approach will require a sustained investment and commitment from a variety of stakeholders dedicated to understanding how policing can be improved through science and effective collaborations. NIJ is aware that the numerous challenges in the policing profession are complex and that no one approach will work to improve policing. However, we will continue to emphasize the need to make investments in science through multidisciplinary research and evaluation efforts that feed into the ongoing development of programs and interventions to improve policing. To those with whom NIJ has already partnered in these efforts, my sincerest thanks for your wisdom and support, and I hope you will continue to collaborate with us moving forward. To those who have not yet joined our efforts, we look forward to working with you in these endeavors in the future.

Howard Spivak, M.D.
Acting Director, National Institute of Justice