Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Getting Advice

You might find that seeking help and advice from some other people can greatly speed up your search. Among those to consider are:

Crime Analysts

If your department is large enough to employ crime analysts, they might help you search the Internet for useful material. This is particularly the case if a crime analyst has been assigned to help with your project. Crime analysts are generally comfortable with using computers and are accustomed to searching for material on the Internet. Recent manuals and other publications for crime analysts have recognized the important role they can play in researching problems for a police department.

† See Velasco (2005) and Weisel (2005).

Other Police Departments

"Cold calling" other police departments is rarely productive, but if your search has revealed that a particular police department has tackled a similar problem, it is worth calling that department. Try to speak to the officers originally involved in the project and try to get a copy of the report if one was produced.

Local College or University Faculty

If your local college or university has a criminal justice program, you might be able to obtain helpful advice on your problem from a faculty member. Do not expect the professor to spend much time on your problem, but he or she might be able to suggest sources for you to explore. Look at the institution's website to find out as much as possible about the interests of the faculty before attempting to contact anyone. If you call and leave a message, be sure that the professor can reach you easily. For anything more than an hour or so of consultation, the faculty member might expect compensation, although some state universities consider assistance to government agencies within that state to be part of their faculty's regular service mission.

National Experts

A particular expert's name might appear repeatedly during your Internet search and it can sometimes be helpful to contact that person by email to ask for advice. Remember that these experts are likely to be very busy people. You should contact them only when you have exhausted other possibilities, and you should only ask them for a specific piece of information that they can provide quickly. Experts cannot be expected to summarize their publications for you. They will not reply to general queries such as, "Any information you can provide about my problem will be gratefully received." When asking for references to useful articles, list those that you have found most helpful to date. The expert will then be able to tell at a glance whether you have missed anything really important, and he or she is more likely to supply the key reference. Do not expect to engage an expert in a prolonged email correspondence unless he or she has invited you to email again.

Visiting a Library

As explained above, you can obtain some articles and reports not available on the Internet through the NCJRS. In some cases you may be able to call or write to the agency or organization that issued the report for a copy. But in most cases, the only practical method of obtaining an article or report not available on the Internet is by visiting a public library or, better still, a university library. Most of them, except the smallest public libraries, have professional librarians to help you locate material and online subscriptions to information sources not available to you at home or work. Since the services available at public libraries and university or college libraries are different, these are discussed separately below.

Public Libraries

The public library serving your town or county might be closer than the nearest university library and has the great advantage of being open to any member of the public. The librarians are also likely to be especially helpful to local police. However, do not expect to find the books or articles you want to read on the shelves of your public library, even if it serves a large city. The material is usually too specialized for a general readership and to find it you will usually have to go to a college or university library. What you can expect to get at any reasonably large public library is personal help from the librarians with your search. You can also expect to find three important resources:

  • Computers with high speed connections to the Internet. High speed connections make searching for and downloading material much easier and less frustrating. Unless your home computer or the one you use at work has a high speed connection, you might find it more efficient to use those at the public library.
  • Subscriptions to online databases. Many public libraries carry subscriptions to some useful online databases, particularly ProQuest, Ebsco and InfoTrac:
  • ProQuest is a Web-based information service providing access to a number of databases covering various subject disciplines. Some of the databases included are ABI/Informal Global, Social Science Plus, Criminal Justice Periodical Index, newspapers, etc. The service provides citations, abstracts, and some complete (full text) items from magazines, journals, and newspapers covering all subject areas. Not all libraries subscribe to all of the databases that are part of the ProQuest group, so you will need to see what databases are provided by each individual library. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the Criminal Justice Periodical Index (CJPI), this should be your database of choice. CJPI offers coverage of 59 criminal justice titles, as well as indexing and abstracts for another 140 relevant U.S. and international journals.
  • Ebsco provides "Academic Search Premier," a multi­disciplinary database that includes abstracts and indexing from more than 4,000 scholarly publications covering a wide field of academic endeavor. Full text is provided for many of the articles. This source also includes indexing for several major U.S. newspapers.
  • InfoTrac is an electronic resource that provides access to more than 8,500 periodicals–from the New York Times to general interest magazines, business and technology publications, and law and academic journals.

Once you have obtained a library card, you might be able to gain access to the library resources from your home computer, including access to these and other databases.

  • Interlibrary loan. This service allows participating libraries to obtain most books, articles or reports that you might need by requesting a copy from the nearest library possessing the material. You will be required to complete an interlibrary loan request form that the library will supply. This form requires the title of the work, the author, publisher, place of publication and date. If you are requesting a journal article, you will need to supply volume and page numbers. In most cases it takes about two weeks to obtain the material, but rarer material can take up to six weeks. The library will usually notify you when the material has arrived and you will have to collect it. Loans are not usually renewable and can be kept a maximum of one or two weeks.

    † It can be difficult to borrow copies of dissertations and some reference books.

University or College Libraries

Unless you are enrolled as a student, you cannot always gain access to these libraries. You might expect to be more warmly received at a state college or university than at a private institution, but libraries vary greatly in their access policies and it is always worth going there in person and asking if you might be allowed to use the library. In some cases, you may be able to become a "Friend of the Library" for a nominal fee, which will allow you to borrow books and access other services of the library. In other cases, you might be granted certain privileges but not others. For example, you might be allowed access to the books and journals, but might not be allowed to make use of the library's interlibrary loan service.

  • The library's colection. The articles or books you want to read might be held in the library's collection. This is much more likely to be the case if the college or university has a criminal justice program, especially one at the graduate level. Even then, however, the library might not hold copies of lesser-known books and many reports. The library's card or electronic catalog will help you find the journal or book if the library holds it, but it is important that you have the following details: exact title of the article or book, the full name of the author(s), and the year of publication.

When the college or university has a criminal justice program, ask the librarian to tell you where the books and journals are shelved that are used mostly by the criminal justice faculty and students. An hour or two browsing these shelves might turn up useful material. If the librarian is a criminal justice specialist, he or she might be able to direct you to the most productive sources.

  • Online resources. You can expect the college or university library to have full subscriptions to the databases mentioned above that you can access either from home on limited fee-paying basis or from a large public library, including PsycINFO. Another valuable online resource available at most college and university libraries is SocioFile, which indexes approximately 2,300 journals from 55 countries. It covers sociological topics such as alcohol and drug abuse, counseling, crime, law, public administration, public affairs and violence.
  • Criminal Justice Abstracts. A very important resource is online access to Criminal Justice Abstracts (CJA), but you are only likely to find this at colleges and universities with a criminal justice program. CJA provides comprehensive coverage of the major journals in criminology and related disciplines, extensive coverage of books, and access to reports from government and nongovernmental agencies from 1968 to the present. It is prepared in cooperation with the Don M. Gottfredson Library of Criminal Justice of Rutgers University. Topics include crime trends, prevention projects, corrections, juvenile delinquency, police, courts, offenders, victims, and sentencing. CJA is available in both a print edition from Sage Publications and an online version from Cambridge Scientific Abstracts. The online version is much larger than the print version.

    Compared with NCJRS abstracts, CJA focuses more on the criminology and criminal justice literature, and as such provides greater coverage of academic journals, nongovernmental research, and scholarly books. NCJRS Abstracts tends to focus more on policy issues related to the U.S. government, and it provides more coverage of government-sponsored research and the less-academic magazine literature.