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date: 20 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Systematic social observation (SSO) of the police involves in-person observation of police patrol officers as they perform their work in its natural setting, using probability sampling of observation units and standardized coding categories that render the observations systematic. SSO has a long and distinguished history as a police research methodology because it generates rich data that are in many respects superior to other forms of data, and it is adaptable to several different theoretical or analytical perspectives. The drawbacks of SSO have probably been overstated in some accounts and can be minimized when SSO is conducted properly. This essay reviews the history of SSO of police and the virtues and limitations of SSO data. SSO has promise for further illuminating police practice if future studies build on recent advances in the technique and developments in technology.

Keywords: systematic observation, in-person observation, police research, research methodology, police patrol

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