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One-on-One with Michael Jenkins, Ph.D. ’06

One-on-One with Michael Jenkins, Ph.D. ’06

Assistant professor in the Sociology, Criminal Justice and Criminology Department

Expert on innovation in policing and community problem-solving policing

How did you become interested in the field of criminal justice? 

I can trace my interest in issues of crime and criminal justice back to my high school English classes with Barbara Holmes. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Richard Wright’s Native Son inspired me to want to further understand the psychological and societal dimensions of criminal offending. 

You’ve been quoted by and/or written op-eds for the New York Times, the BBC, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and many other national and local news outlets. What do you hope to convey to the public about community problem-solving policing? 

My No. 1 goal is to encourage people to take a step back, to see the issue at hand in its larger historical context. My commentary is often of a one-time, brief point in history — an event that people bend and use for their own ideological purposes. 

One of the biggest compliments I receive from students or others who follow my work is that they cannot tell if I am generally “pro” or “anti” police. I hope that’s a reflection on my unbiased and objective analysis of whichever contentious issue I’m being interviewed about. 

Speaking of contentious issues, responsible policing is an issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days. Your students may or may not end up in law enforcement. How do you talk to them about events like those in Ferguson, for example? 

Students have a desire to understand and make sense of these events while also recognizing their own biases or the emotions they invoke. Separate lectures on police culture, organization, patrol activities or police history all have some important connection to understanding these brief clips we see of police-citizen interactions gone bad. How the city, its police department and politicians react to these events are also important points for lessons in police legitimacy and leadership. 

The rise of the online community has changed us all. How should police adapt? 

We should be thinking about the skills and backgrounds of police in the 21st century, as new criminal opportunities facilitated by technology arise. The traditional cop on the beat twirling a nightstick will still have its place, but we will also need police with specialized backgrounds in forensic computing and financial accounting and in analyzing and solving problems to combat the types of crimes that our communities are facing. 

Police are also mindful of how the vast and connected online community contributes to citizens’ perceptions of the police, people’s views on criminal behavior, and the need for strict police accountability. 

What’s next for you? 

That’s the question I’m always asking myself. I’m preparing to leave on a Fulbright award in spring 2017. I’ll be working with colleagues at University College London and the Metropolitan Police Department to study how police use force in the resolution of disorderly offenses. Before leaving, I’m hoping to finish a book manuscript on international policing. I have the pleasure of working one-on-one with motivated and smart undergraduate students on some interesting policing and crime projects. I’m looking forward to wrapping those projects up before they graduate next year!

Want more from Dr. Jenkins? He talks more about community problem-solving policing and delves into the 'Broken Windows' theory in our Web Exclusive.

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