Of course criminology is relevant. Our most important gains as to characteristics of crime and ways to combat crime come from the criminological community. All of us were schooled by criminologists who taught us critical analysis skills and challenged simple assumptions. They demanded reasoned thought and urged us to avoid easy solutions.
We are effective administrators within the justice system because we were schooled by criminologists.
Then why do so few embrace the findings and observations of the criminological community?
The short answer is “we don’t know,” but we believe it’s a matter of who we trust and how crime-related decisions are made.
The link below addresses the nationally-known D.A.R.E. program. D.A.R.E.’s model is straightforward; police officers are trained to lead educational sessions in local schools that are designed to help students resist peer pressure and live drug-free lives.
The program’s reach is nothing short of remarkable. D.A.R.E. has been responsible for training hundreds of thousands of police officers and educating millions of children. The program has spread to 43 different countries.
Alongside this impressive track record, however, there are more than 30 evaluations of the program that have documented negligible long-term impacts on teen drug use. The criminological community has declared D.A.R.E. a failure many, many times.
Despite these setbacks, D.A.R.E. is currently alive and well, taught in about 75 percent of school districts across the country. Over 15,000 police officers participate as D.A.R.E instructors, providing educational sessions about drugs and drug abuse largely targeted at 5th and 6th graders.
The D.A.R.E. story is far more complicated than presented here but the premise remains; in spite of overwhelming criticism, D.A.R.E. not only exists, it thrives based on the decision making process at the local level.
How Crime-Related Decisions are Made
We’ve been in top-level discussions about crime many times and evidenced based guidance based on research is not on the table for the majority of deliberations.
Decisions are made by governors, mayors, county executives and agency heads based on:
- What they believe citizens want,
- Their personal-political beliefs (but even liberals are conservative about crime most of the time)
- What they can afford.
The findings of the criminological community are often ignored because:
- No one reads complicated and poorly written research,
- The research rarely provides the clarity necessary for decision making.
Agency heads and politicians make hard choices every day based on the belief that citizens want safety and accountability from people who break the law. Regardless as to whether it works or not, they believe that citizens want more cops on the streets and the bad guys locked up.
There’s never enough money for programs for offenders (something we strongly support) because people who make decisions about crime fighting believe that it’s not want citizens want and it’s unaffordable when compared to more popular efforts. The research may say otherwise, but like we said, few read the research.
Getting back to D.A.R.E., politicians, school administrators and citizens want police officers in schools for a variety of reasons. It’s a matter of trust, and everyone seems willing to trust police administrators.
It’s a shame but the criminological community has no one to blame but itself. As stated, research findings never get to the point and are virtually unreadable. Political basis is often undeniable.
But if the criminal justice system is ever going to change into a robust, research based enterprise that solves problems as efficiently and as cost effectively as possible, then change must be led by researchers within the social science community. We need criminologists to lead the effort.
Crime control policies must respect the wishes of citizens and the realities of budget, but we can only profit from unbiased evidence based practices fairly stated.