Throughout her 29-year career, Ellen Scrivner, PhD, has led a range of public-sector efforts aimed at preventing crime and promoting public safety on the individual, organizational and community levels. So when the Obama administration appointed her as deputy director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—the research, development and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice—she was excited to be able to oversee research on new developments in all of these areas.
"It's nice to come full circle and have the opportunity to support the creation of knowledge in this area, to see what works and what works [even] better," says Scrivner, who started the job in September.
Scrivner's broad leadership experience integrating psychological and law enforcement perspectives and affable personality mean she's a natural for the role, says her former colleague Guy O. Seymour, PhD, of APA's Div. 18 (Psychologists in the Public Interest).
"Ellen is first and foremost a psychologist, and she understands that policing is applied psychology," he says. "She'll bring that knowledge base and skill set into an arena that doesn't always appreciate the importance of behavioral and psychological knowledge, and do it in a way where people want to get on board."
The down-to-earth police psychologist is known for her evidence-based, humane and community-oriented approach to developing and heading public safety programs and fostering law enforcement leadership, adds APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD. She is particularly noted for her role in helping to establish the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, at the Department of Justice, where she served in leadership positions, including as deputy director, from 1994 to 2003. Over the last 15 years, the COPS program has trained 500,000 police officers, community members and government leaders to form partnerships to help prevent crime and address public safety issues.
She also served as deputy superintendent from 2004 to 2007 for the Chicago Police Department, headed a leadership program for criminal justice and public safety officials at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice from 2007 to 2009, and held positions at the FBI and in police departments in Maryland and Virginia.
"Dr. Scrivner's strong background in police psychology and her widely recognized authority in community policing will serve her well in advancing the agency's initiatives in research, development and evaluation related to crime control and justice," Anderson predicts.
In her new job, Scrivner is part of a new leadership team that will select researchers with project ideas aimed at bringing new insights to the institute's 10 main program areas: law enforcement, forensic sciences, crime prevention, crime types, victims and victimization, drugs and crime, tribal crime and justice, technology and tools, corrections and courts. Her agency also is charged with evaluating which interventions and technological tools work the best—areas ripe for psychological input, Scrivner believes.
Scrivner predicts she'll be focusing on several hot-button issues during her NIJ tenure, including problems with corrections systems related to overcrowding; preventing violence and victimization, including of children exposed to violence; and a greater emphasis on "predictive policing," evidence-based strategies that can improve officers' awareness of criminal activity and locations before a crime occurs.
She is also eager to revisit community policing, which she says took a relative backseat after 9/11 when policymakers out of necessity placed more emphasis on intelligence-gathering in the interest of homeland security. Scrivner also hopes NIJ researchers will re-examine the most successful community policing efforts and consider adding updated approaches, such as incorporating intelligence-gathering in ways that don't invade people's privacy and using computer-based communication, like e-mail and texting, to engage community members in preventing crime.
Given the Obama administration's support of both research-oriented and community-based approaches, she anticipates the agency will get the green light to pursue the best ideas in all of these areas. In the process, she hopes the effects extend in tangible ways to the community, so that people in formerly high-crime areas feel safe walking their streets again.
"We're not just promoting evidence-based work that drives policy and practice, though that's a major part of our mission," Scrivner says. "We also want to improve the quality of life in communities across the country."
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.