Data Collection Methods

Research Methods in the Criminal Justice System – CJ490-01

What is research and how do you describe the process? The influential African American author Zora Neale Hurston once said that “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” (Hurston, 2011) With respect to Ms. Hurston’s accurate synopsis, it does not answer the questions “Where do I begin?” and “How do I conduct it?” There are many ways to study a topic and draw conclusions about it; the researcher must use both their discernment and knowledge of the Scientific Method in order to decide how to obtain specific information and answer their own questions. The method a researcher chooses depends largely on what information they are trying to collect, how to obtain the most accurate information, the population being studied, and how they can obtain information without doing any harm to participants.

To understand how police officers feel about the use and effectiveness of wearing body cameras to the mission of the police force, I feel that I should simply ask them. This can be accomplished most effectively by contacting my local police station to schedule a date/time for me to come in to the station and request that available officers sit down and fill out a written questionnaire. The questionnaire will have been created by myself and my research team, so I can ensure that it has a balance of meaningful open and closed-ended questions. I could also conduct a survey by going around the police station asking officers at random if they would be willing to discuss their opinion about body cameras with me privately. I would not need to take notes if I chose to ask officers to fill out a questionnaire, because their answers would serve as the data/notes of my survey. I would need to take notes or use a tape recorder if I chose to interview police officers for my survey. (Wyllie, 2012) A third data collecting option exists, but it is not the most effective or favorable; I could publish the same written questionnaire that I had planned to ask the officers to fill out in-person at the police station online. Websites such as Survey Monkey serve as hosts for researchers to post surveys and polls for their chosen population. I fear that officers who were asked to fill this survey out on their own time after work when they are tired would either not be thinking clearly and rush through it (which would damage the results) or forget to do it entirely.

The researcher is obligated to do no harm during the course of collecting data for their study; for this reason, I feel that they should use secondary data analysis to collect sensitive data such as information about 911 calls for domestic violence within their community. Requesting that domestic violence victims discuss private information such as their experience(s) with abuse privately with the researcher or in a questionnaire might trigger very painful memories or revictimize them, so those methods should only be used as a last resort. Using secondary data would prevent the researcher from having to cause any harm because the information they need to know is already readily available to them. (, 2013)

In this method, a researcher uses data and information that has already been collected by another entity or person. This type of analysis method is ideal when there is a vast amount of quality data. Police departments require that each call for service (including domestic violence calls) is received on a recorded line, collected, compiled, and archived into their information database. Operations information such as police reports, evidence, criminal records, progress notes about the case, and witness interview footage are also saved into their databases which saves a great deal of time (and resources) for the new researcher that just arrived on the scene. Rather than having to listen to each individual 911 call about domestic violence, the new researcher can just read the former researcher’s analysis from the work that he/she has already done. When money is tight in a researcher’s budget, secondary data analysis is the most cost-effective method with almost guaranteed high-quality results. (, 2016)

Stalking is a very serious crime which extends far beyond simply listening to your conversations, peeping in your window, and following you in this day and age. In our culture where more people have social media than don’t and many young people digitally document seemingly every detail of their life, including their current location, it is no wonder that mentally ill individuals take advantage of their vulnerability to totally violate their privacy. For someone who is tech savvy, it would be relatively simple for them to gain access to even the most intimate details of another person’s life and darkest secrets with just the click of a mouse. A person’s online banking transactions, credit report, account passwords, text message conversations, phone logs, search history…etc. could easily fall into the wrong hands within a matter of minutes. Since obsessive and stalking behaviors have such a high potential for rapidly escalating into violence and even death, I feel that it would be proactively responsible to devote a combination of each method of data collection to the study of stalking in this Midwest town.

I would begin my study by collecting secondary data from the local police department about instances of stalking from the past. If I felt that it was necessary because I had lingering questions following the reading of previous researchers’ work, I might request to speak to some of the local stalking victims. After familiarizing myself with the data from the cases the police gave me, I would split my research team in half. Half of my team would go out into high traffic public areas within the community to observe and half of my team would go out and question people in the streets. (Jones, 2014) Since the times have changed so much with the emergence of social media, I would also like to hear from middle school and high school aged students about their experiences with cyber stalking. I would of course contact the schools ahead of time, obtain any necessary parental consent forms, and request that as many students as possible fill out my questionnaire. If the concern was specific to one person stalking women on an online forum or as a result of meeting them on a dating website, I might request backup from the police while I send a researcher in undercover.

Prostitution can be difficult to prove since you as the researcher are not present in the room when the sexual acts are carried out. It is defined as “willfully pursuing (soliciting) individuals to engage in a sexual activity such as sexual intercourse or any lewd acts that may arouse sexual feelings for monetary gain.” (, 2017) Compensation for sexual acts can also come in the form of drugs or other favors. As the person trying to obtain information about prostitutes and their industry, you could not know if the acts were consensual, nonconsensual, or even if the woman (or man) profited from the intercourse without speaking to them or the johns about what you observe. All you can really do is watch for patterns of behavior such as the same scantily dressed girls showing up night after night and strategically positioning themselves in the same places, seeing the same vehicles in the parking lot on a regular basis, and a man (or woman) known as a pimp or madame frequently showing up in an upscale vehicle unannounced to check on operations and employees.

If the truck stop has a café or eating area, you could position a member of your research team at a table pretending to be engrossed in some type of work or reading a book. If several girls went on break together in between johns, they would likely discuss their clients with each other in that area over a drink or snack. The researcher could learn a lot by simply listening to their conversations and making observations from across the parking lot. Since we want to find out the nature and scope of the sex trade going on in truck stops along this route, we will need to vigilantly monitor what approximate age the solicitors are. If they are children or even adolescents, it is likely a human trafficking operation and you as the researcher would have a legal obligation to report everything to the police immediately.

Although it is difficult to decide what data collection method is best for the type of research you hope to conduct, it is well worth it in the end to thoughtfully contemplate and arrive at a favorable, accurate result. When you as the researcher can reflect back on the study and honestly say to yourself that no one was harmed, the results are replicable, and the data can easily be interpreted, you will know that you have been successful. When you are able to “poke and pry with a purpose” (as Ms. Hurston described it) and the research you conduct results in life-changing advances in knowledge and abilities, that is the true purpose of scientific research epitomized.