Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 19, 2006|Volume 34, Number 29|Three-Week Issue















Albert J. Reiss Jr.

In Memoriam: Albert J. Reiss Jr.

Work led to reforms in policing

Albert J. Reiss Jr., the William Graham Sumner Professor Emeritus of Sociology whose research on violence between police and citizens sparked a revolution in police practices internationally, died April 27 at a retirement community in Hamden, Connecticut. He was 83.

Prior to coming to Yale in 1970, Reiss served as research director for President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in 1966. In that post, he pioneered a new method of studying violence by direct observation in natural settings using laboratory-like precision. His 36 trained observers checked boxes on questionnaires to record the behavior of 11,255 citizens in 5,360 incidents. In about 10% of them, some level of violence emerged.

Reiss found that the risk of violence depended heavily on whether the police encounter was "proactive" or "reactive": whether police had been invited to intervene in a situation by a citizen who was present at the scene, or whether police had intervened on their own initiative. He theorized that citizen invitations were seen as a more legitimate basis for police action that provoked less resistance by all citizens present, including those placed under arrest.

Reiss' quantitative observational method also produced the first systematic sampling of police misconduct. The observers' counts, for example, showed that 14% of the police officers were observed taking bribes or stealing merchandise from burglarized premises. Reiss' study made headlines for reporting that three-fourths of all white police officers expressed racial prejudice against blacks. The sociologist found that there was no difference in police brutality against blacks and whites.

As a result of Reiss' study, police leaders launched more proactive strategies. Some of his research led to major innovations in policing in New York City in the 1990s under Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, including the "Compstat" method of assigning police patrols that was later adopted around the world.

Reiss also pioneered the use of surveys of self-reported crimes, which uncovered high rates of undetected delinquency in middle- and upper-class juveniles, challenging the view that delinquency was a product of poverty.

Reiss also studied criminal networks among both delinquents and legitimate businesses. During the Carter administration, he was commissioned to write two reports on how to measure corporate and organizational crime more systematically, but his proposals were shelved under the Reagan administration.

Reiss was later appointed by James K. Stewart, Reagan's director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), to co-chair the design of the largest study of crime and humans ever conducted, the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Jointly funded by the NIJ and the MacArthur Foundation, the $40 million project gathered both observational data on public places and interview data on growing young people across the age span.

Born on Dec. 9, 1922, in Cascade, Washington, Reiss interrupted his education at Marquette University to serve as a meteorologist with the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago, where he worked on studies on probation, juvenile delinquency and neighborhoods, and also taught at the school. He was promoted to assistant professor when he finished his doctorate in 1949. He later taught at Vanderbilt University, the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan.

Reiss served at Yale from 1970 until his retirement in 1993. At Yale, he published "The Police and the Public," his influential treatise on the social organization of police encounters with citizens, and became increasingly engaged in developing the field of criminology. He served as a senior adviser to a range of survey, experimental and observational research projects and helped re-design the National Crime Victimization Survey, the annual report on crime rates in the United States published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. He also chaired the National Academy of Sciences committee on "Understanding and Preventing Violence" and co-edited its four-volume final report in 1993.

The recipient of a number of international awards, Reiss was elected president of the American Society of Criminology in 1984 and of the International Society of Criminology in Paris in 1990, the first person to hold both of these offices. In 1996, the American Sociological Association named its Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Crime, Law and Deviance in his honor.

Reiss is survived by his wife, Emma Hutto Reiss; a daughter, Amy Susan Reiss of Portland, Oregon; two sons, Peter Clemens Reiss of Portola Valley, California, and Paul Wetherington Reiss of New Canaan, Connecticut; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service was held on May 6. Contributions may be made to the American Sociological Association Reiss Award, c/o Sally Hinman, 1307 New York Ave. NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20005 or to the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven, CT 06511.


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Campus Notes

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