We met with Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle to discuss criminology careers, police partnerships within schools, ways to build trust between the police and the community, and much more. Enjoy!
Criminologist and professor Lorraine Mazerolle talks with student Karina Macosko about how a university sociology class led her to a criminology career. She discusses her role as a criminologist and how this compares to the role of a police officer. As an experimental criminologist, Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle runs large randomized field trials to look at ways to build trust between the police and the community. Mazerolle’s research focuses on police partnership within schools and its impact on preventing crime. Mazerolle warns students that there will always be criminologists because people will always commit crimes, and she advises students to follow their passion in whatever field they choose.
Gotta follow that passion because if you've got the passion, it will translate into a fantastic career.” – Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle
See additional leaders in criminology and criminal justice in our article
Top Influential Criminologists Today
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina Macosko: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko from AcademicInfluence.com and I’m here with Professor Mazerolle who is at University of Queensland. And I just wanted to know…
…could you explain to us how you got your start in your field and what influenced you to go into the field you went into?
Lorraine Mazerolle: Oh, thank you so much for that question. Well, I was 14 years old when I wanted to be a criminologist. So I used to read the newspapers, well, in those days, it’s newspapers, you guys just scroll through different social media feeds, and it always bothered me as to why people could harm other people. I’d read about murders and assaults, and terrible things and I always got really passionate about it, that we needed to do something to stop this from happening. So at that time, I went to our student guidance counsellor and he said, "Oh, you need to become a police officer."
So in those days, so this is like 35, nearly 40 years ago, I went off on the day after my 17th birthday, which was when you could be recruited as a police officer, and I was gonna be a criminologist, and the first thing they did was to measure how tall you were. And for the record, I am five-foot-four. But at that time I was five-foot-three-and-three-quarters and I was too short, so I didn’t even make it to step one. So I was thrown out on the steps of the South Australia Police that’s in South Australia and I thought my life as a criminologist was gonna be washed up.
I then went to university and started an economics degree, and like so many of my students, I took an elective course in sociology of deviance and that actually opened the doors for me to start to study deviance. In those days, there was no criminal justice at all, and so that was how I got my academic leg into the door for criminology.
Karina: Wow, that is so cool.
And do you think, looking back, you’re really happy that you couldn’t become a police officer or do you secretly hope you could have tried it out and then gone on to become a criminologist?
Lorraine: Oh, that’s such a good question. There was a couple of opportunities during my career where they said, "Look, we can laterally recruit you into the police department," and I always rejected it because by then, I actually understood that I had much more freedom to be an academic and I had much more opportunity to actually influence policy and practice from being that one step outside of the police agency.
So they were tempting times, and there’s a big joke with a lot of my colleagues that the one thing I really wanted to do was I wanted to do the obstacle course. And so a couple of years ago, one of my police colleagues set up the obstacle course for me to do.
Karina: Wow, that is incredible. And I interviewed another criminologist earlier today and he said that there are so many things that you can study within criminology, so what is it that you study, what specific area do you study?
Lorraine: Yeah, so I’m a policing scholar, so I study police effectiveness and actually what the police can do to better control and prevent crime problems. So I actually started my career working in correctional services and doing my thesis on correctional policies and practices, and then I got this most amazing break. My PhD supervisor was actually David Weisburd and David Weisburd is one of your academics of influence. I literally put my backpack on my back and headed over to New York to study with David, not knowing at that time he was an assistant professor.
So from there on, I’ve always studied and worked with police, and I think that’s really an important part of what I do, is working with police as academic partners and working together to come up with practice solutions that will help to prevent and control crime problems.
And what is it that you found that can help us prevent and control crime problems?
Lorraine: So my big area of interest... I’ve got several areas of interest but my real passion is police partnerships, the way the police partner with other entities, with schools in particular. Most recently, we’ve looked at the way that the police partner with schools to work together to solve problems for young people, young people who, a lot of them who are trending, also are known to police, not necessarily the young person but some of their families are very troubled families, for example. And so it’s how the police work with these other entities and to bring about a crime prevention outcome.
Karina: Well, in the United States, there’s a lot of talk about police reforms and how we can change things like how police work with schools. There’s this talk of getting police out of schools.
So what are your opinions on this? Do you think that we should go on with this, taking police out of schools or... What are your opinions?
Lorraine: Well, I think that the way that the police engage with young people is what’s at the core of it. So if the police are in there doing a law and order and just being there to tell off the kids or to arrest them, charge them, and that sort of thing, I don’t think that that’s a role for school-based police officers and I don’t think that’s the... The role for police is to really engage in positive ways with all aspects of the society, with community, young people, old people.
If people see the police as trustworthy, they're more likely to comply, they're more likely to feel satisfied with the encounter…” – Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle
And this is another area of what we do, is looking at the way that the police use the principles of procedural justice to better engage with people and what we found is that the trustworthy motives. If people see the police as trustworthy, they’re more likely to comply, they’re more likely to feel satisfied with the encounter, and how do you bring about that more just encounter with all aspects of people in society?
Karina: Wow. And so could you tell us...
In order to collect your research, do you go around and go to schools, and ask people about maybe their trust with police officers or how do you find your research?
Lorraine: Okay, so I’m an experimental criminologist, so we run really large randomized field trials. So right now, we’re randomly allocating 63 schools to an experimental control condition, working with the experimental schools, working with the police to look at ways to really better engage with pretty disengaged young people.
But in all of the experiments that we run, we collect a heap of different types of data. We do observations on the interventions. We collect administrative data, police data, education data. We also do surveys of the young people and their parents. We also interview the police and the school representatives that are participating. So it’s a very mixed methods approach to collecting data.
Karina: Wow, that is so interesting.
And can you share just what are your findings? How are the ways that you can encourage better interactions between police?
Lorraine: So we know that when the police really engage with the schools and the school representative and they build positive partnerships and they are able to communicate with the parents and the young people in a procedurally just way, then people will actually understand what their legal obligations and their responsibilities are.
And it’s a very simple thing, it’s a very, very simple thing, that a lot of the time, people actually don’t know what their legislative responsibilities actually are and if that can be communicated in a fair and just way, then... People like to be treated decently, they like to know what their obligations actually are, and that’s what brings about a reduction in crime, reduction in self-reported antisocial behavior, and increase in going to school.
Karina: Wow, that is fascinating. And I know I mentioned before how there’s a lot of talk of police reforms in the United States but do you see similar interactions between police in other countries? Have you studied any other countries, the police relations?
Lorraine: Yes. So a lot of the research that we did on procedural justice policing has been replicated in a lot of different countries all over the world and...
Karina: Oh, interesting.
Lorraine: Yeah, and of course, the United States is in a particularly difficult situation at the moment. So we’re not in Australia, we’re not seeing that level of tension between police and many aspects of our communities, so it is a different context that you are experiencing in the United States at the current time. And of course, I have spent 10 years of my early career in the United States, so I’m fundamentally aware of the challenges that you face.
Karina: That is so interesting. And at AcademicInfluence.com, a lot of people come to try and figure out what career they might be interested in, and it’s really interesting that you knew that you wanted to be a criminologist or a police officer when you were 14, but what advice would you have for somebody who has no idea what they wanna do or maybe they’re looking at going into criminology or something in that realm?
Lorraine: Yeah, look, and great question, I really think that people should follow their dreams and however goofy or however... Even if you think, "Well, there’ll be no jobs there after finishing my degree." I don’t think that that’s the way you go about it. You’ve gotta follow that passion because if you’ve got the passion, it will translate into a fantastic career. So number one is follow your heart, follow your passion, because that really comes out. And you’re working for a very long time, so you have to have that passion.
The other thing, and I say this to my students all the time, is that since people were on earth, we’ve always had deviance, we’ve always had people doing the wrong thing, so the one thing that we do know in criminology and in criminal justice is that there will always be jobs. And the type of crimes that we face, we don’t know in 30 years time what the crimes will be.
Cybercrime, for example, right now, is just huge. We’ve got a number of our students wanting to work in the area of cybercrime and looking at the transmission of child sexual exploitation material across the internet. Now, that was a crime that even 20 years ago didn’t even exist.
So there will always be jobs. We don’t know what kinds of crimes we’re gonna be facing into the future but it’s a fascinating career. And to have the passion and conviction that we can actually do our bit to make the world a safer place, that’s what we wanna encourage in our students.
Karina: So even if your passion is just to do the police obstacle course, you should still follow it, right? [chuckle]
Lorraine: Yes, and it’s not that hard. [chuckle]
Karina: It’s not, really. Did you do well on it at all or I guess...
Lorraine: Well, by the time I did it, I was over 50, so I thought I did great but they said that I probably look like I was waddling. But anyway, that was just being very rude. [laughter]
Karina: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed. It was really fascinating to hear all that you said and I think you gave some really great advice, so thank you so much.
Lorraine: And thank you for interviewing me and follow your dreams.