U.S. flag

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

Harvard Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014)

Date Published
June 1, 2015

Law enforcement has changed since September 11, 2001. To understand how policing will change in the future, NIJ and Harvard's Kennedy School of

Government are collaborating on the second "Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety."

In 2008, NIJ and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government convened the second[1] Executive Session on Policing in response to increasing challenges and complexities confronting law enforcement executives in the 21st century. New questions in law enforcement emerged such as the role of technology in policing, police responses to mass demonstrations or terrorist events, police legitimacy and accountability, as well as the cost of policing in a struggling economy.

In response to these discussions, the second Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety produced a second series of papers in several areas including:

  • Police discipline.
  • Police science.
  • Professionalism of the police. 
  • The changing environment of the police.

Moving forward. As a result of the second Executive Session, NIJ and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government are entering into phase II of the second Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety to extend the discussions of the second Executive Session and explore emerging issues related to policing research, management and policy such as: 

  • Procedural justice in policing.
  • The role of police in reducing incarceration.
  • Race relations inside police agencies.
  • Police/community relations.

Papers from the Executive Session

Following is the complete list of papers from the second Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, sponsored by NIJ and the Harvard Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

The papers from the first executive session have become a foundation for police executive training across the nation and we hope that these new papers have a similar impact.

Title, Author and Date Description
Crime and Policing Revisited (pdf, 32 pages)
By Anthony A. Braga
September 2015
This paper outlines the stark differences in the nature of police crime control conversations between the first convening of the Executive Session on Policing (1985-1991) and the second (2008-2014) resulting from an unprecedented growth in rigorous evaluation research on what works in police crime prevention. The author provides an overview of what was known about the police and crime prevention at the time of the first Executive Session; what was proposed then as promising new ways for the police to reduce crime; and the research conducted during the 1990s and 2000s that examined the efficacy of these ideas. Finally, the paper concludes by offering two central ideas on continuing effective police crime prevention policies and practices suggested by participants of the second Executive Session and supported by existing research evidence.
Childhood Trauma and Its Effects: Implications for Police (pdf, 22 pages)
By Richard G. Dudley, Jr., M.D.
July 2015
For children, repeated exposure to violent trauma, particularly in the absence of parental nurture, support and protection that might mitigate the impact of such trauma, can have devastating effects on their psychiatric and neuropsychiatric development. This paper summarizes current understanding of the effects of ongoing trauma on young children, how these effects impair adolescent and young adult functioning, and the possible implications of this for policing.

The author argues that while children from any neighborhood can be exposed to violent trauma, children from poor communities of color are particularly at risk for such exposure. Because these communities are often the focus of police attention, it is important that police be aware of the high prevalence of severe childhood trauma in such communities, appreciate its effects on the developing child, and understand its impact on adolescent and adult functioning. With this knowledge, police officers have a greater capacity to help decrease the prevalence of this major public mental health problem.
Toward a Profession of Police Leadership (pdf, 20 pages)
By Edward A. Flynn, Victoria Herrington
June 2015
Policing is a constantly evolving field and new threats, technologies, crimes and communities all present new challenges and opportunities for policing. Thus, skill sets required by police leadership today differ greatly from those required 20 years ago. In this paper, the authors examine what it means to be a leader within the policing field, and advocate for reframing leadership through the adoption of "learning organizations." Within these organizations, people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire; new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured; collective aspiration is set free; and people are continually learning how to learn together.
Race and Policing: An Agenda for Action
By David H. Bayley, Michael A. Davis and Ronald L. Davis
June 2015
Race remains an inescapable dilemma for today's law enforcement agencies. The police confront issues of race in nearly everything they do, from their own organization's decisions about hiring and promoting to the external suspicions and hostilities they encounter from citizens and they complaints they receive from ethnic communities about being over- or under-protected.

The authors present the ideas they believe are the most promising in terms of what police executives might do to alleviate the problems of race in contemporary policing.
The Police and Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence
By Anthony A. Braga and Rod K. Brunson
May 2015
The authors examine the term “Black-on-Black” violence, which while statistically correct, is a simplistic and emotionally charged definition of urban violence that can be problematic when used by political commentators, politicians and police executives. Inappropriate framing of urban criminal violence problems, and the policies and practices that result, constitute substantial obstacles for police departments and for minority communities struggling to solve these critical issues.

The authors advocate for careful analysis leading to clarity in describing urban violence patterns to improve police-minority community relations. The key to progress lies in careful analysis of the specific dynamics that generate patterns of violence and a broader appreciation of the value of carefully tailored police interventions.
From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals
By Sue Rahr and Stephen K. Rice
April 2015
The authors advocate for a recommitment to democratic ideals within law enforcement agencies to combat the culture and mindset that law enforcement officers are warriors at war with the people they are sworn to protect. To combat this trend, the authors suggest shifting training programs away from the paramilitary boot camp model towards programs that recommit police culture to democratic ideals, where officers exercising procedural justice are viewed as a vital part of a community, instead of an occupying force.
Measuring Performance in a Modern Police Organization (pdf, 40 pages)
By Malcolm Sparrow
March 2015
Author Malcolm Sparrow describes some of the narrower traditions police organizations follow when they describe their values and measure their performance (clearance rates, response times, etc.). Sparrow uses the analogy of an airline pilot’s sophisticated cockpit as he advocates that police managers use a broader and richer information environment to assess performance. In easy to understand language, he summarizes the work of several giants in the policing field who have broadened the framework for monitoring and measuring policing (Herman Goldstein, Mark Moore, Robert Behn, etc.).
Rightful Policing (pdf, 17 pages)
By Tracey Meares, with Peter Neyroud
February 2015
Several high-profile incidents have called into question the ways in which police interact with the public and how satisfaction with police performance is measured. The authors argues that the two dominant measures of police performance — its lawfulness and its effectiveness at fighting crime and increasing public safety — are inadequate, failing to take into account how ordinary people assess their treatment by state authorities. Drawing on research that indicates that people care less about the outcomes of their encounters with police than about whether or not they were treated fairly and with respect and their concerns were listened to, Professors Meares and Neyroud call for third way to assess policing — “rightful policing.” Rightful policing looks at four elements of procedural justice in police encounters with the public — quality of treatment, decision-making fairness, voice and expectation of benevolent treatment. She argues that police conduct that takes into account these four factors leads to greater police legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry and ultimately to more willing obedience to the law.
Managing the Boundary Between Public and Private Policing (pdf, 28 pages)
By Malcolm K. Sparrow
September 2014
This paper provides a clear framework that police executives can use to examine their interactions with private policing and to determine more readily how to maximize the benefits to society while minimizing the associated risks. The paper includes four hypothetical scenarios that illustrate common dilemmas and challenges that confront police executives. Each scenario raises a different combination of benefits and risks to be recognized and managed. It is evident that contributions by private police can and should contribute to public purposes. However, the risks associated with private policing cannot be ignored and there are grounds for concern. Each one of these grounds for concern, in each situation in which they arise, represents work to be done by public police. The police profession should treat these concerns as policy and operational challenges to be managed rather than as grounds for disengagement. Public police need to understand clearly the motivations and capabilities of each contributor, develop an understanding of the whole system and what it provides, and do their best to make sure the overall provision of security aligns with their public purpose.
Policing and Wrongful Convictions (pdf, 32 pages)
By Anthony W. Batts, Maddy deLone and Darrel W. Stephens 
August 2014 
In this bulletin, two law enforcement professionals and an advocate for those who have been wrongfully convicted look at the causes of wrongful convictions and propose a number of best practices to reduce the incidence of these injustices. They look not only at the individual causes of wrongful convictions (e.g., mistaken eyewitness identification, false testimony by confidential informants, false or coerced confessions, failure by the police to pursue leads that would have led to the actual person who committed the crime and mishandling of or failure to preserve evidence) but also at the systemic failures and cognitive biases that lead to these errors. The bulletin provides a number of detailed case examples of persons who were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated and discusses what investigations of errors in other fields, such as medicine, can teach law enforcement about how to prevent wrongful convictions and assure that the real individual committing the crime are brought to justice.
Challenge of Policing in a Democratic Society: A Personal Journey Toward Understanding (pdf, 16 pages)
By Charles H. Ramsey
June 2014
The history of the cooperation of the German police with the Nazi regime during World War II, as shown in a series of exhibits from the Holocaust Memorial Museum, teaches contemporary police professionals cautionary lessons about tolerance, upholding constitutional values, and the duty to protect the rights of all members of society. In this bulletin, adapted from a speech at the Holocaust Museum and other reflections on the role of police in a democratic society, Commissioner Charles Ramsey of the Philadelphia Police Department discusses how "zero tolerance" for crime can become "zero tolerance" for those whom a society deems undesirable and how absorbing the lessons of the Holocaust can lead police to renew their commitment to protecting and defending the rights of all members of our society.
Social Media and Police Leadership: Lessons from Boston (pdf, 24 pages)
By Edward F. Davis III, Alejandro A. Alves and David Alan Sklansky
March 2014
The Boston Police Department (BPD) has long embraced both community policing and the use of social media. The department put its experience to good and highly visible use in April 2013 during the dramatic, rapidly developing investigation that followed the deadly explosion of two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. BPD successfully used Twitter to keep the public informed about the status of the investigation, to calm nerves and request assistance, to correct mistaken information reported by the press and to ask for public restraint in the tweeting of information from police scanners. This demonstrated the level of trust and interaction that a department and a community can attain online. In the aftermath of the investigation, BPD was “applauded for leading an honest conversation with the public during a time of crisis in a way that no police department has done before.”

In critical ways, BPD’s successful use of social media during the marathon bombing investigation relied on previous trust building by the department — including a longstanding, if more mundane, use of social media. This paper discusses the lessons to be learned from BPD’s use of social media during the marathon bombing investigation and earlier. However, it is not strictly or even primarily a case study. It is an effort to contribute to a broader, ongoing discussion about police and social media. It is a reflection, in light of Boston’s experience, on the opportunities and challenges that social media present to the police and on the ways in which social media can help develop new models of policing that are adapted to our 21st-century world but rooted in traditions of community engagement stretching back through the community policing movement to Robert Peel’s 19th-century goals for a modern constabulary.
Police Leadership Challenges in a Changing World (pdf, 24 pages)
By Anthony W. Batts, Sean Michael Smoot and Ellen Scrivner
July 2012
There is a new generation of police recruits entering the profession, with habits and expertise in different areas that can clash with police organizations' traditional paramilitary culture and industrial-type bureaucracy. The success of police organizational leaders may depend on how effectively they recognize and adapt to the dynamic characteristics of younger officers. This paper argues that these "contemporary employees" present not only leadership challenges but also significant opportunities, as they bring demographically unique attributes to law enforcement that may help it align better with community and citizen expectations. The contemporary employee demonstrates a familiarity with technology and social media; new attitudes towards their role in law enforcement and the community; greater acceptance of diversity; and new expectations regarding autonomy, participation in decision making and flexibility of working conditions. These skill sets, attitudes and expectations are among the competencies needed for 21st century law enforcement.
Exploring the Role of the Police in Prisoner Reentry (pdf, 24 pages)
Jeremy Travis, Ronald Davis, and Sarah Lawrence
July 2012
One thing is certain for nearly all incarcerated persons who are in state and federal custody: they will come back. Traditionally, the police have played little part in facilitating the reentry of incarcerated persons into the community, both because the police have seen their role as limited to the surveillance of those on probation and parole for the violation of the terms of their release or the commission of new crimes and because of a historical lack of trust between organizations that work with returning individuals and law enforcement agencies. In this paper, the authors argue that police, particularly urban police departments, have a major role to play in reentry, in part because of high recidivism rates among returning individuals and because of their concentration in some of the poorest, highest crime neighborhoods. Greater involvement of the police in reentry can promote public safety through more focused problem-oriented policing efforts and increase police legitimacy, particularly in minority communities, through enhanced community policing efforts.
Police Discipline: A Case for Change (pdf, 27 pages)
by Darrel W. Stephens
June 2011
This paper describes the challenges law enforcement agencies nationwide experience with current disciplinary procedures and offers alternate approaches that can improve internal morale and external relationships with the community. Stephens also highlights proactive approaches (such as education-based discipline, mediation, peer review and early intervention) that some agencies are employing to manage and reform officer behavior.
The Persistent Pull of Police Professionalism (pdf, 20 pages)
by David Alan Sklansky
March 2011
This paper suggests that the past model of police professionalism has been updated as a result of technology and federal funding. Sklansky explains that 1960s police professionalism was not about tactics, such as random patrol, but rather about the governing mindset behind policies. By the early 1980s, this professional policing model was discredited, giving birth to community policing, which also focused more on ideas and policy and less on tactics. Community policing was seen to have shortcomings, such as being vague and not reducing serious crime. Today, professional policing is mounting a comeback. Community policing, however, is still valuable. Although the community policing model is incomplete, a model of "advanced community policing" could address unanswered specifics about the nature of community policing that would help law enforcement agencies, police researchers and the public resist the persistent pull of police professionalism.
Moving the Work of Criminal Investigators Towards Crime Control (pdf, 38 pages)
by Anthony A. Braga, Edward A. Flynn, George L. Kelling and Christine M. Cole
March 2011
This paper points out the challenges to police executives in moving the work of criminal investigators toward a more active role in crime control. The paper provides research on the effectiveness of criminal investigators, the problem-oriented approach to crime control and intelligence-led policing. The authors suggest ways to allocate proactive and problem-solving work between criminal investigators and patrol officers. The paper concludes with examples by the authors of moving the work of criminal investigators at the Milwaukee Police Department, the New York Police Department, the Victoria Police in Australia, and police agencies in the United Kingdom.
Toward a New Professionalism in Policing (pdf, 27 pages)
by Christopher Stone and Jeremy Travis
March 2011
In the 1980s, community policing replaced the traditional crime-fighting model of policing, often referred to as "professional policing." Community policing was an improvement over the previous policing paradigm (one that the authors argue was more truly professional than the command-and-control model that it replaced) and represented a great change in how police officers did their jobs. The authors argue that it is now time for a new model for the 21st century, one that they call a "New Professionalism." Their framework rests on increased accountability for police in both their effectiveness and their conduct; greater legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry; continuous innovation in tactics and strategies for interacting with individuals committing crime, victims, and the general public; and national coherence through the development of national norms and protocols for policing.
Police Science: Toward a New Paradigm (pdf, 24 pages)
by David Weisburd and Peter Neyroud
January 2011
This paper urges the police to take ownership and make use of science in the policing task. The authors commend the police industry for embracing innovative management strategies and crime control and prevention policies over the last two decades, but argue that as a whole, the profession has been hesitant to adopt scientific, evidence-based policies and practices resulting in a fundamental disconnect between science and policing.

The authors discuss existing research that supports their contention and lay out a proposal for a new, science-based policing paradigm. They describe the adoption this paradigm as necessary if the police industry is to "retain public support and legitimacy, cope with recessionary budget cuts, and...alleviate the problems that have become part of the policing task."
Governing Science (pdf, 36 pages)
by Malcolm K. Sparrow
January 2011
This paper argues that the emphasis on using evidence-based practices from social science research and methodology to establish operational and program agendas for policing practice only limits and distracts from more relevant and substantive contributions from natural sciences methodology (e.g., pattern recognition); traditionally productive avenues of observation, investigation and inquiry (e.g., crime analysis); and problem-oriented policing as more effective responses to crime in communities.
Making Policing More Affordable: Managing Costs and Measuring Value in Policing (pdf, 20 pages)
by George Gascón and Todd Foglesong
December 2010
During the last 25 years, the costs of policing have risen dramatically across the nation. This rise in costs has spurred debates among city managers, elected officials, and police chiefs on how best to pay for policing — a debate that has only become sharper with the current fiscal crisis among state and local governments. This paper looks at the rising costs of policing in one medium-sized U.S. city (Mesa, Ariz.), and asks two major questions 1) What is driving up the costs of policing? 2) What return on their investment in policing are cities and their residents receiving?

The paper compares policing costs and returns for Mesa with other nearby cities in the vicinity of Phoenix and with other medium-sized cities across the country. It then considers strategies now being tested for managing the rising costs of policing, including efforts to cut spending, raise productivity, revalue the benefits of policing and reengineer operations.
The Changing Environment for Policing, 1985-2008 (pdf, 16 pages)
by David H. Bayley and Christine Nixon
September 2010
This paper explores the differences in the environment for policing between 1985 and 2008. Policing in the United States was under siege in the 1980s; crime had been rising from the early 1960s and research showed that traditional police strategies were not working (e.g., hiring more police, random motorized patrolling, foot patrols, rapid response to calls for service and routine criminal investigation). Recent research has reconfirmed this, even though crime has declined dramatically since 1990. However, the panel found that police could reduce crime when they focused operations on particular problems or places and supplemented law enforcement with other regulatory and abatement activities.
One Week in Heron City: A Case Study
by Malcolm K. Sparrow
September 2009
One Week in Heron City follows Chief Laura Harrison's through her first week on the job in this fictional city of 400,000. We invite you to eavesdrop and see how law enforcement agencies might eliminate pre-established mentalities and see problems in a new light. Chief Harrison enters a city:
  • Where the sense of safety has been shattered by the brutal, unsolved murder of a young mother who had repeatedly told police she was being followed.
  • Experiencing a rash of high-end car thefts that few people are concerned about because of excellent insurance payouts.
  • Whose public health department is preparing for a possible flu pandemic and wants to know what services the police can offer.

Chief Harrison discovers that progress is slow made despite all the department's problemsolving efforts — Compstat, intelligence-led and evidence-based policing, community policing.

What Is an Executive Session?

An Executive Session brings together the leading thinkers on a particular topic. The Harvard and NIJ partnership to form an Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety has assembled 28 executives and academic professionals to explore issues in policing and crime control.

Participants are selected for the sessions based on a combination of factors, including experience, ability to work cooperatively and potential for helping with dissemination.

Sessions take place over three days. Session participants direct the meetings and guide the discussion. Ultimately, the group examines how the discussion can influence public policy. Each session typically leads to the publication of several papers by expert panel members.

Date Published: June 1, 2015