Gathering Research Data on Police Officers Job Hazards

Introduction

Police officers play a key role in the society. They are involved in many activities including daily patrols, arresting criminals, traffic control, guarding prisoners, transporting criminals to courts or prisons, resolving domestic disputes, conducting drug raids, and investigating criminal activities. In executing their duties, they face many hazards ranging from assaults, homicide, injuries, communicable diseases, and stress-related illnesses (Mayhew, 2001).

This paper investigates the criminal justice system specifically addressing research method appropriate for investigating job hazards police officers face as they perform their duties.  

Research Goals

  • To study the criminal justice system including its procedures and functions;
  • To investigate the hazards police officers encounter when executing their duties;
  • To determine the most suitable data-gathering technique appropriate to use in investigating the research topic.

The Police

To know the kind of job hazards police officers face while executing their duties, it is important to understand the police structure and functions. The police is the law enforcing body. They ensure there is law and order in the country. To effectively execute their duties, the police structure is subdivided into ranks rolling from the top most rank of police commissioner through inspector of police to sergeants and constables at the bottom, each with specific duties.

At the departmental level, the chief police officer oversees the duties of a department, assistant chief police takes over the functions of the chief police officer when absent and commands police at major incidents. The captain has various police functions such as investigations and operations. Lieutenant heads a division such as patrol or detectives, sergeant heads special units or line officers, and officers or constables execute police functions at the lowest levels. Command flows from top to bottom of the rank, with sergeants and constables executing most of the functions in the society.

According to Vila and Morris (1999), police maintain law, provide social services, and control crime. In maintaining law and order, the police control traffic, control crowd, and resolve domestic disputes. This is done with an intention of maintaining peace in the community. Socially, the police respond to emergency by providing first aid to victims. They also help to find lost children and distribute food to hunger stricken areas. In addition, they help in arresting criminals and investigating crimes.

Specific duties of the police involve resolving conflicts, protecting the constitution, reducing occurrence of crimes through patrol, spotting criminals and their activities, arresting them and representing the government in courts, controlling and facilitating traffic and people’s movement, assisting the disabled, and creating and maintaining security confidence to the public.

Research Method

An interview technique would be used to gather data from constables and sergeants. These ranks are chosen since they dominate in the police force (about 85% of the force), and they directly execute orders received from senior officers. The survey would include random samples of officers holding the ranks spread across the whole country.

The use of interview would be the most appropriate for the survey since the method enables investigation of issues in details, helps discover individual’s thinking and view concerning a certain topic, enables discussion of sensitive topics which may not be discussed in a group, provides greater response, enables explanation of unclear and incomplete answers, and allows to make recording of respondents’ responses.

The interview would take the general guide approach to ensure that inquiry of the same areas of information is done to every person interviewed leaving the interviewer with the freedom to dig deeper in questioning to get more information (Flick, 1998).

The synthesis questions would be asked to give in-depth information in the research question. These questions would enable the interviewees to produce answers from different options, to synthesize the question, and provide their conclusions. Though such questions might take a long time to answer, they give clear and satisfactory answers. For example, “How are the current police job hazards influenced by the past police structure and systems?”.

To get specific information, direct questions would be used. An example of such a question would be “Which types of job hazards do you face as a police officer while doing your work?” Definitional questions would help explain certain terms which may not be understood by many but used in the police force. For example, “Who is a constable?” And to get more than a “yes” or “no” response from interviewees, open-ended questions would be used in the interview. This would make interviewees relate what they think are important. The example of such a question would be “Explain what the police go through when undertaking their duties”.

Finally, probing questions would be used to help get more information about something. For example, “Can you explain further what happens while patrolling?”

Advantages of Qualitative Data-Gathering Strategy

Qualitative data-gathering strategy such as participant observation and interviews are flexible compared to quantitative data. Quantitative data such as questionnaires and surveys are inflexible since all participants are asked the same questions structured in the same order.  Qualitative data-gathering strategy, therefore, gives interviewers a chance to probe further or observers to observe something in details.

Qualitative research, unlike quantitative research, offers open-ended questions which do not follow the exact wordings to each participant. This way, participants respond to the questions in their own words giving more detailed and complex answers than in qualitative questions.

A less formal relationship is created between the researcher and participant in qualitative research compared with quantitative research. This gives participants conducive atmosphere to respond to the questions in more details compared to the case with quantitative. Researchers also have an opportunity to respond to participants’ responses immediately.

Informed Consent and Confidentiality

Before interviewing participants, it is important to explain fully to them the reason behind the research including the ways in which it will be disseminated. The sergeants and constables should be informed on their right to refuse to participate, the purposes for which the data will be used, the level of confidentiality in the research, and their right to “re-negotiate consent” (Corti, Day, & Backhouse, 2000). Since some response information may directly or indirectly criticize management in research, informed consent builds confidence in participants as their identity will not be disclosed and, therefore, free from harmful consequences. In addition, informed consent protects the researcher from being sued or his project deemed unethical.          

Confidentiality entails the extent of the disclosure of information and/or participant’s identity. In some cases, confidentiality can be negotiated and the confidant allowed disclosing information on participants’ identity in ways agreed.  Confidentiality enables participants to disclose all the information to a researcher without fear as it guards them against harmful consequences. In case a researcher wants to gain more information about a project when new components are added, informed consent and confidentiality enables participants to ask and be informed of additional risks involved.

Conclusion

Research requires identification of the right research method that can provide the most detailed information to a researcher. A general guide interview approach would ensure the inquiry of the same areas of information to sergeants and constables and enable interviewers to dig deeper in questioning to get more information when researching on the hazards police face in their jobs.

To get more detailed information from participants, issues concerning informed consent and confidentiality should be considered before undertaking any research.  

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