Geoffrey Alpert has, since 1975, been researching how police conduct themselves, and one finding borne out in his work is that many police officers see themselves as “warriors” against crime. He’s seen that dynamic on display as he’s studied studied racial profiling and the use of force in some of the nation’s most controversial departments, including in Miami and Los Angeles.
Alpert, who is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, has advised police departments throughout the country on how to reduce the use of force and increase trust between the public and law enforcement. One change he commonly recommends is for police officers to provide more constructive criticism to each other.
For The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Alpert about how the balance of affirmation and criticism plays out in police departments, as well as in conversations with his own students. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
Elisha Brown: Your research recommends that police officers critique one another on their performance, and that officers might be more receptive to advice coming from an equal than from a superior. What are your thoughts on peer-to-peer mentoring?