Modern Policing and Coping with Death and Violence

Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
DOI: 10.18258/3249
Raised of $1,500 Goal
Funded on 10/01/14
Successfully Funded
  • $2,135
  • 142%
  • Funded
    on 10/01/14

Project Results

Drawing on over 1000 hours of field observations and more than 100 interviews with officers across three urban police departments, this project describes how officers are socialized to view their work through the "danger imperative"-- a cultural frame that emphasizes the possibility of violence and the need to provide for officer safety. I describe the informal and formal mechanism through which officers learn this frame, as well as its effects on their behavior. Notably, officers engage not only in policy-approved behaviors to keep themselves safe on patrol, but also engage in behavior that is expressly forbidden by departmental policy. These behaviors, instead of keeping officers safe, increase the risk of injury and death to officers and the public.

About This Project

To address the issue of urban gun violence, police have adopted a new strategy, called "community-oriented policing". However, we know little about how officers experience the day-to-day of community-policing, or how they deal with the trauma of seeing the fallout of urban violence. Using interviews and field work, I hope to better understand the lived experience of those tasked with reducing violence and reconnecting with the community.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Despite long-term decreases in violent crime in the U.S., gun violence remains a pressing problem. According to the FBI, a gun murder occurs about once every hour of every day; 8775 times a year in the U.S. in 2010. To address these issues, police department have evolved, and many are engaging in what is called "community-oriented policing".

As opposed to traditional "deterrence" policing that uses mass arrests and mandatory minimums, community policing focuses on re-building trust between police and community residents through cooperative relationships. In particular, these efforts concentrate in communities of color that have long been at odds with law enforcement.

What is the significance of this project?

In light of the ever-present concerns around violent communities, understanding the lived experience of the officers tasked with reconnecting with long-estranged and often angry communities is of dire importance. However, to date little has been done to document the way that the officers tasked with this strategy experience its implementation, how it affects their relationship with the communities they police, or how officers cope with the violence and death they encounter while in these communities. This project hopes to be the first step in understanding the experience of modern police tasked with building trust in high-violence areas.

What are the goals of the project?

1. Interviews with 40 law enforcement officers, ranging in rank from patrol officers to top police leadership.
2. Field observations at police Compstat meetings, where city crime trends are discussed, and strategies are constructed for implementation at street-level.
3. Field observations with officers in high-violence areas.

With these methods, I hope address the following questions:
[1] How have policing tactics and policies changed in New Haven since the 1980s ?
[2] ow do police feel about the strategies they are tasked with carrying out on city streets?
[3] How do police perceive of neighborhood feelings towards them, and how do those feelings affect how they go about their duties as police?
[4] How do officers experience the violence they often come into contact with while policing?


Please wait...

Funding will allow for transcription of interviews performed with law enforcement, as well as for purchase of recording and coding hardware and software.

Meet the Team

Michael Sierra-Arevalo
Michael Sierra-Arevalo

Team Bio

I began my PhD in 2012, and the ride so far has been wilder than I could have ever imagined. Since starting my PhD, I've ridden a police segway, worn a Kevlar vest in Chicago, and worked with over a dozen police departments across the country. In that time I've gotten to know some men and women in uniform, and through them the work they do. Being a cop isn't easy, in practice or in consequence. With tensions between the public and law enforcement as high as they are now, I want to help people on both sides of the thin blue line better understand how law enforcement policy, racial tensions, and organizational pressures play out in the real world, for police and the communities they patrol.

Project Backers

  • 32Backers
  • 142%Funded
  • $2,135Total Donations
  • $66.72Average Donation
Please wait...