My research interests lie in the area of criminology, political sociology, and critical theory. Within these fields my work focuses primarily on the origins and development of policing practices, issues in international police reconstruction and state-building, the role of police training in transforming institutional culture, and situating state formation in a broader context of neoliberal globalization and neoimperialism.
Currently most of my work centers on recent data collected in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) territory of Iraq, working in conjunction with Gabrielle Ferrales (University of Minnesota) and Wenjie Liao (Rochester Institute of Technology). This data set consists of ethnographic observations of police and judges conducting their duties, interviews with police and judges (N=40, average length=43 minutes), and most centrally, an experimental factorial survey from a stratified random sample of judges and police currently serving in the region (N=110, 5,500 cases). Interview and survey respondents were drawn from cities, towns, and villages throughout the KRG and all levels of the police and judiciary, representing major urban centers and rural locations, and ranging from front-line officers to Chiefs of police and judges of first instance to the Supreme Court.
Respondents were asked to assess criminal sentences in hypothetical case vignettes of prison guards accused of torturing imprisoned suspects by assigning “just” sentences. These vignettes contained a number of common variables whose categories or values were randomly varied, most centrally the national/military affiliation of both actors (whether they are Kurdish or a member of the Coalition, an Islamic State (IS) suspect, or from the Government of Iraq (GOI)). This research design operationalizes the indeterminate effect of torture law and the presence of IS by experimentally manipulating a wide range of case characteristics in the vignettes. The random assignment also allows variables to be examined independently of one another. We are thus able to assess the independent effects of characteristics of the defendant (e.g. Kurdish prison guard) and the victim (e.g. IS suspect) upon the punishment of torture (e.g. sentence length). We are currently in the final stages of data analysis and have begun drafting articles, with the first of these expected to be submitted for publication in the Spring.
Such data is incredibly unique as I am, to my knowledge, the only researcher working directly with judicial actors and security personnel in the KRG. As such, the resulting publications from this study have the potential to make path-breaking contributions to scholarship on how criminal justice actors operate in conflict scenarios, highlighting how their decision-making and practices are informed by extra-legal processes beyond the written legal code. In addition to expanding our social scientific understanding of legal decision-making in an under-studied conflict setting, it also has the potential to contribute more broadly to scholarly work on punishment, human rights, sentencing disparity, and general legal decision-making as they relate to larger patterns of social stratification.
Another major line of research I am currently developing centers on my work with the training department of the Pittsburgh Police Department (PPD), in collaboration with Norm Conti (Duquesne University). Dr. Conti has spearheaded an Inside-Out program in which police recruits take a course inside a state correctional institution alongside incarcerated citizens. Given the success of the pilot version of this program, we are currently working with PPD to expand the number of police recruits who participate in the Inside-Out course in future cohorts. As we expand this project from the pilot stage to full implementation across PPD training efforts, we are developing and implementing an expanded curriculum, as well as instituting a variety of assessments to examine if/how/why the program impacts officer attitudes and behaviors. We will use the assessment to scale up the program, as well as develop a curriculum and relevant training materials that can be instituted by other police forces around the nation.
Finally, I have recently completed a book which is forthcoming from University of California Press (March 2021). Based on over a decade of research in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, I draw from 90 interviews with police and judges throughout the region, hundreds of surveys, and over a year’s worth of ethnographic observation to demonstrate three key lessons from their experience reconstructing a police force from scratch: 1) How political and economic ideologies build and maintain dysfunctional police cultures, 2) How competent and legitimate police forces are essential to a functioning democracy, and 3) How the abuses, corruption, and failures of a police force threaten the very existence of a nation. Touching on everything from police reform to the nature of the democratic state to neoliberalism’s disastrous impact on the modern to state to the nature of contemporary imperialism, this wide-ranging book is the first of its kind to examine the reconstruction of a police force based on local data collected during active hostilities.
And if you’ve read this far, you’re either considering giving me a major grant or are one of my parents. So to you I say: whichever project I have submitted for your consideration will produce important insights based on novel methodologies which will greatly enhance the literature on several important questions, and Hi Mom! Hi Dad!
Here’s what I’m working on these days