Police training is just one piece of the complex scientific puzzle to measure law enforcement effectiveness, says Nancy Rodriguez PhD ’98, the director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Rodriguez was appointed in October 2014 by President Barack Obama.
“This goes beyond just training,” she says. “In the past there was a focus on behavioral research, or on technology. We need to understand the connections between different areas.”
Rodriguez’s deep expertise—from her doctoral research at WSU with Professor Nicholas Lovrich and later her professional career at Arizona State University—gives her both practical and academic insight. As an ASU criminal justice professor, she wrote prolifically about issues such as the intersection of race, ethnicity, crime, and justice.
Just as importantly, she worked directly in courts and police agencies. Based on these experiences, Rodriguez says we need to use scientifically proven methods to identify which reforms can truly reduce crime and keep both communities and police officers safe.
“When I took this position, Ferguson and Baltimore were just hitting the national spotlight,” she says. “Then we had the president’s task force on twenty-first century policing, which to me is the blueprint for how we can improve police practices by using science to identify what works.”
As the Justice Department’s chief scientist, Rodriguez says she applies rigorous research methods to broad questions of crime and justice, bridge gaps between disciplines, and finally translate the ideas into practice.