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Meet the editor of... Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management

An interview with: Lawrence F. Travis III

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Image: Lawrence F. Travis IIILawrence F. Travis III is a Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, where he has been on the criminal justice faculty since 1980. He received his doctorate in criminal justice from the State University of New York at Albany in 1982. He is co-author of Policing in America: A Balance of Forces, and has published numerous articles on policing and criminal justice topics.

Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management describes itself as "a unique and essential source of comparative police information for senior police and policy makers, educators and students". Interdisciplinary and international in scope, the journal covers the latest developments on matters of policy, practice, management, operations, education and training, science and technology. It has published articles on community policing, performance measurement and accountability, crisis negotiation, civil disorder, organized crime, victimology, high-risk police activities, and traffic enforcement.

Editorial philosophy

I understand that Policing: an International Journal of Police Strategies & Management is aimed at senior police, policy makers and academics. Can you describe your market more precisely, for example in terms of types of job, and academic departments?

Policing is essentially an academic journal in which we publish recent research and commentary. I think the primary audience of the journal comprises two distinct, but related groups. The first are those who are conducting research into police strategies, practices, and effectiveness.  These people are the authors of most of the articles that appear in the journal. Many are primarily researchers and faculty members at institutions of higher education (mostly Criminal Justice or Criminology, but also Sociology, Psychology, Public Administration, Political Science, Business Administration and even Economics). A large proportion are affiliated with police agencies, as personnel in research and evaluation units, as police officers carrying out research, or as personnel for professional associations, think-tanks or governmental organizations such as the UK Home Office or the US National Institute of Justice. The second major group are those who administer police agencies and who wish to keep abreast of the research. For these readers we try to insure that articles published in the journal contain discussions of the policy and practice implications of the research.

You put a lot of emphasis on the international coverage of the journal. How do you maintain this coverage and ensure a geographical spread of contributions? I understand that you have been working to make the Editorial Board less US focused – can you say a bit about your plans in this area?

I think the journal has a strong reputation around the world, and we receive submissions from authors around the globe. We make an effort to invite researchers from South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia to submit their work for publication in the journal. Of course, being in the USA it is relatively easy to keep in touch with North American researchers. We have begun to expand membership of the Editorial Advisory Board with an emphasis on adding members who are from nations other than the USA and/or who represent operating police agencies or police service organizations more than the traditional college and university. We value very highly the contribution of our academic colleagues, but are trying to expand the representation of practitioners as well as those from other lands.

The study of policing is by its very nature interdisciplinary. What are the main disciplines from which you draw?

It is difficult to name just a few, as our contributors apply a variety of methods and approaches. In the main, our articles are social scientific and thus we have a large number of contributors who have been trained in economics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Of course we also receive quite a few submissions from authors applying historical approaches, or business administration models to police issues.

Do you have many authors who are police officers or policy makers?

Most of our authors are researchers, but researchers often work in collaboration with police officers and administrators. I would estimate that as many as one-fifth of our authors work for police agencies or other organizations that make or direct police policy. In the main, the articles that appear in Policing, while scholarly, have a focus on applied research.

The study of policing is by its nature a practically-oriented discipline because of what it deals with. Your audience is also partly a practitioner one, but practitioners are generally reluctant to read long articles. How do you ensure that your journal remains not only relevant to, but also read by, practitioners?

I think the answer to the previous question is also applicable here. The practical focus of research? Aan emphasis on how the research findings can apply to, and improve police practise is an important part of the appeal of the journal. In addition, over the past two decades the practice of policing has become increasingly research-based. The notion of "problem-oriented policing" requires that police be knowledgeable about criminology and the efforts of colleagues in other settings. On the whole, police personnel are better educated and more closely tied to research than ever in the past, and that link between research and practice seems to grow stronger every year. I think the journal is read because it is useful. Our authors are conducting research on the "cutting edge" of policing. We try to present a mix of topics in the journal so that readers will always find something of value.

Is the journal used in the teaching of trainee police?

I am not sure if the journal is part of any core curriculum, but I know that several of our institutional subscribers are police academies and police agencies. I can only assume that the journal is seen as a valuable resource for police trainees.

How does the journal compare with Policing and Society, the quarterly academic journal published by Routledge?

These two journals are similar in many ways. Very often papers that appear in one of the journals could just as appropriately have been published in the other. I think there is a difference in terms of the purposes of the journals. As I understand it, Police and Society is directed more at explaining what and how police officers and organizations behave. For example, a paper exploring the impact of crime rates on police staffing might be most appropriate for Police and Society. In contrast, here at Policing, I think our primary focus is on understanding the impact of police actions. A paper exploring the relationship between patrol staffing and crime rates would be appropriate. For most people this difference may be too subtle. To me it is rather clear. There should be a relationship between crime and police staffing. The difference is whether we want to explain what the police do (staffing levels – Police and Society) or the impact of police action (changes in crime rates associated with staffing changes – Policing).

The journal was formed in 1997 from a merger between two journals, Police Studies: International Review of Police Development, and the American Journal of Police. How has the journal developed since the merger?

I think the journal has become stronger over the years. The prior journals were both relatively small ventures and not especially well managed.  The merger of the two journals allowed Emerald to consolidate efforts in production and distribution of the journals and helped focus the editorial effort. The content of the journal became much more international than the earlier American Journal of Police, and the research published in the journal has been more rigorous and of a higher quality than what was typical in the former Police Studies. Of course, I have a biased viewpoint, but I think the merger combined the best of the two former journals while reducing or eliminating most of the prior problems.

The journal won the inaugural Emerald Outstanding Special Issue Award in 2003 for "Community policing: an international perspective".  What do you think makes for a really good special issue?

We have done a number of special issues since then. I try to do one each year, but that is not always possible. I think a good special issue is one that focuses on a topic that is important and timely. The keys to a good special issue, once you have selected a topic of importance to your readers, is to ensure that the issue reflects the best of current research and thinking on the topic. That is the job of the guest editor for a special issue who must, therefore, be very knowledgeable about the topic, and be able to recruit the contributions of active experts.

What special issues do you have lined up, what calls for papers and what other plans do you have for the next 18 months?

We currently have no plans for a special issue in the upcoming year. We published a special issue for December, 2009 on policing and public safety in Southeast Europe. In addition to our regular call for papers in the editorial statement of each issue, we also invite authors who present papers on appropriate topics at scholarly and professional conferences to submit their work for publication consideration.

Types of articles

You state in a recent editorial that you encourage "reviews of recently published books, ... websites or Internet resources".  Do you have a say in selecting these books/resources? What do you think marks a good article of this type?

The book review editor, Dr Stanley Shernock coordinates our book review section and works with authors submitting book reviews to be sure the reviews are timely and useful. We sometimes "commission" a review by asking a particular person to provide us with a review of a book or other resource, but we usually receive unsolicited submissions. As with any article, a good review is one that clearly communicates the strengths and weaknesses of a book or Internet resource and that can locate the subject (book, website, etc.) in the context of others. Good reviews tend to include comparisons between the resource being reviewed and others that are well-known and available. A review that helps the reader to determine whether she or he should invest time and energy to read the book or explore the internet resource is ideal.

When authors submit articles that are the fruit of research, in what sort of detail should the methodology of the research be presented?

In the main, we expect sufficient detail in the description of the methods to allow readers to do two things. First, while often unlikely, it should be possible for the reader to replicate the research if she or he would desire to do so. Second, but more important, there should be sufficient detail for the reader to be able to arrive at an independent assessment of the credibility and generalizability of the findings.

Are there any particular research methodologies which the journal favours?

I don't believe the journal has a bias in favour of, or is opposed to, any particular methods. For a number of reasons quantitative empirical studies are more common than qualitative studies. I think that has more to do with the difficulty of presenting qualitative research in a relatively short article than with a bias in favour of quantitative efforts. We are open to all methods.

You welcome "thought pieces" or viewpoints. Can you say more about what is meant here and what makes a good article of this type?

Whatever is submitted to the journal, I think the basic test is whether or not the article stimulates thinking and/or otherwise adds to the knowledge base. It is not necessary for an author to collect or analyse data to be published in the journal. To me, a 'think piece' is one where the author reports his or her informed views of some topic based on a review of the extant knowledge base. There must be an original contribution, however. It would not be enough to simply provide a review of the current literature on a topic. The author must also link that literature in a conceptual fashion that stimulates thinking or improves our understanding of the phenomenon in question.

Publishing issues

How many submissions do you get a year, what percentage of submissions do you reject outright, what percentage go to reviewers, and what percentage end up being published?

We receive approximately 100 new submissions each year. Perhaps 5 per cent are rejected outright as inappropriate for the journal; the others are sent for external peer review. The review process tends to result in a small percentage of articles being accepted (most contingent on some corrections) after the initial review (about 10 per cent). Another quarter of submitted manuscripts are rejected at the end of the peer review. The remaining 60 per cent are about evenly divided between those that receive an encouragement to revise and resubmit and those that are told a revised version will be considered. At that point, the submitting authors decide whether or not to resubmit. In the end, we accept just under half of submitted articles, about two thirds of which have been revised.

Assuming that an article is in the latter category, how long does it take, on average, between submitting a manuscript and publication?

We strive to make an initial editorial decision on a paper within three months. If the paper requires a revision, then it may take another two or three months for a final decision. Once accepted, a paper is usually published within about six months. A paper that requires revision may take up to a year in the editorial process while papers accepted on first review can be published within six months.

Are there any quality issues that crop up time and time again with articles, such as lack of structure, or clarity, or poor English?

As an English language journal with an international readership, the quality of authors' English grammar and usage is sometimes a problem.  While we try to work with authors to overcome language problems, it is sometimes necessary to suggest that authors collaborate with an English-speaking co-author of their choice. The review process, I think, tends to solve problems with language, structure, and clarity.

Titles are important for article searches – what are the key features of a good title?

I think the most important thing about a title is that it conveys the content and purpose of the article. The reader scanning the table of contents should be able to decide, accurately, if the paper is relevant to his or her interests from the title. Given accuracy in communicating the content of the paper, another good quality of a title is that it be somewhat "catchy". An accurate title that is easy to recall is, I think, better than one that is too long to remember.

What do you most, and least, like about being an editor?

I think there are a number of benefits I derive from being an editor, but the thing I like most about it is that I have the chance to read research first. The editor gets to see articles before they are published. A second benefit is that, in making editorial decisions, I get to wield some influence over what kinds of research are done (or at least reported) in the field.  I least like the necessity of rejecting author submissions. In my experience, even poor papers tend to include some good ideas. Of course, it is also sometimes hurtful to authors when their work is rejected. A second disadvantage of being the editor is that I cannot control the timing of the review process. I find myself being responsible for delayed decisions resulting from slow reviewer responses. Authors deserve timely feedback, and I cannot always provide it.

And finally...

For all sorts of reasons, policing is a subject of particular import in today's world. Are there any particular [journal] issues or articles which resonated for you in a particular way and which you felt had a particular impact?

While there have been a few papers over the years that I found to be particularly interesting, I think they had more to do with my personal research interests. On a broader level, what has struck me over the decade or so that I have been editing this journal is the universality of certain policing problems. The easy ones, of course, are the difficulty of preventing and controlling crime, maintaining order, and the like. More striking, to me, has been the identification of common problems faced by police and police managers in apparently all settings. There appear to always be issues of trust between the police and minority group members and members of the lower social classes. There are always questions about police officer honesty and integrity. It seems all police systems face the problem of inappropriate interference by elected or other government officials. While there are distinct differences between police and police systems around the world, there are a large number of similarities.

Publisher's note:

Professor Travis was originally interviewed in 2005. The interview was revised in June 2009.

Visit the information page for: Policing