Benjamin S. Wright
School of Criminal Justice
Ph.D., Florida State University
B.S., M.C.J., University of South Carolina
I was working as a police officer and going to college on the GI Bill. I wasn't sure what my major would be, but I was fairly certain that I wanted a college degree. At first, the law enforcement job was just a job. I worked the midnight shift and went to college from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. One of my lower-division professors noticed a personality attribute that I had never paid much attention to: He noted my patience, my interest in others and my ability to join a group—any group—and make people feel comfortable around me. He suggested that I take some criminal justice courses, and I found that the academic major and the profession was a good fit for me.
My primary area of research focuses on police organizational behavior. During the years I spent working as a street-level police officer, I always thought that law enforcement was too steeped in tradition and always too willing to say, "We have always done it that way and we'll continue to do it that way." I felt that the most visible public service agency could do better and should be at the forefront of social change, not lagging behind such trends. I continue to be fascinated by police organizations that recognize social problems and social ills, yet do nothing to address such conditions unless the tides of change push them in the right direction.
My tenure at UBalt has provided me with access to some of the best and brightest police talent in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Some of them have come to my classes as students with open minds, willing to examine change as inevitable. Others have been very forthright by letting me know that "tradition" is a safe haven—that it is secure and does not subject them to the strong occupational peer pressure that demands conformity. I accept the students as they are and present new approaches and ideas to those who desire such change in their lives.
My research has a more applied slant to it and translates very easily to the classroom as a learning laboratory. An investigation I conducted with former UBalt colleague Jeff Sense for a Maryland county police department examined the in-service training process in a study titled, "An Analysis of Selected Aspects of Police Training."
In another study conducted with several colleagues in Florida, we focused on "Pre-Employment Psychological Testing as a Predictor of Police Performance During an FTO (Field Training Officer) Program." Another study, "Policing in a Multicultural Society," resulted in interesting findings that I have been able to incorporate into several undergraduate and graduate criminal justice courses to illustrate how a city's changing demographic population causes parallel changes in the police organization's operational approach.
Pure research has a place in the academy, but applied research is going to have a more immediate and dramatic impact on public agencies.