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Buffalo State Experts: Scott Phillips on Police Work, Present and Future

Posted: October 26, 2015

“Police work hasn’t changed in 30 years,” said Scott Phillips, associate professor of criminal justice. “The technology is different, but the fundamentals—answering calls, dealing with people who don't get along with each other; hearing the same excuses about the broken tail light—that’s all the same.”

And he doesn’t see it changing much in the future, either. Phillips recently completed a position as a Futurist in Residence at the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. He is a member of the Police Futures Working Group, which considers ways that policing may change. Phillips believes that fundamental change is unlikely, although it is possible that, following the events of Ferguson, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams may reconsider their weapons, gear, and vehicles in certain situations.

Phillips’ research focuses primarily on the behavior of police officers and what influences that behavior. “There are about 750,000 municipal police officers in the country,” he said. “A few are super heroes, a few are bad apples, and most of them fall someplace in the middle of the bell curve.” Research shows that most officers are not tolerant toward the use of excessive physical force.

In Houston, Texas, Phillips began his career in criminal justice as a police officer himself. “I tell my students that police work is complex,” he said. “Digging a ditch on a hot, sunny day—that’s hard work. A lot of police work, like driving around on patrol, is boring. But when an incident happens, even something as routine as a traffic stop, it can become very complex very quickly.” Police officers also deal with the expectations of the agency they work for and with public expectations.

Given both his experience and his research, it is not surprising that Phillips has little patience with what he calls bumper-sticker logic. “In every encounter, an officer is dealing with different people and different situations,” he said. “That doesn’t lend itself to oversimplified generalizations.”

Has technology changed police work? “Not really,” said Phillips. “We’ve gone from fax blasts to e-mail blasts, but the day-to-day work—trying to catch the bad guy—that remains the same.”

About Scott Phillips
Phillips grew up in the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. He served as a police officer in Houston, Texas before returning to Western New York. He earned his master’s degree in criminal justice at Buffalo State and worked for the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., before completing his Ph.D. in criminal justice at the University at Albany, SUNY. He began his career as a faculty member at Buffalo State in 2001.

Phillips’s research is widely published in the field of criminal justice. He also developed the intelligence analysis minor at Buffalo State. 

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