You might find that seeking help and advice from some other people can greatly speed up your search. Among those to consider are:
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).
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
† It can be difficult to borrow copies of dissertations and some reference books.
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.
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.
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