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Strengthening the National Institute of Justice
media reported that crime was the number one domestic issue in the minds of the public (Loo and Grimes, 2004). Whether this was in fact the case remains open to scholarly debate, because at the time it was almost impossible to know how bad the crime problem really was. Virtually no national data that could reliably compare crimes across jurisdictions existed.
For policy officials, the media, and the public, the riots and civil rights protests that erupted in major American cities between 1962 and 1968 served as a proxy for crime and created an atmosphere of fear. In response to these problems, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, known as the Katzenbach Commission. The commission’s 1967 report (President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 1967) called for a revolution in the way America thinks about crime and for greater involvement by the federal government in that revolution.
The Katzenbach Commission called for new initiatives in crime prevention, the development of a wider range of techniques for dealing with individual offenders, the elimination of injustices and biases in the administration of justice, the recruitment of more qualified personnel in every criminal justice system component, more operational and basic research on crime and the criminal justice system, the infusion of funds into every domain of justice system administration, and the involvement of the community in crime control efforts.
The report was prescient about the ways in which technology would revolutionize law enforcement. With regard to research, the commission noted in its report that “every segment of the system of criminal justice [should] devote a significant part of its resources for research to insure the development of new and effective methods of controlling crime” (President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 1967, p. x). Even in the face of the overwhelming operational needs of the criminal justice system at the time, the commission stated that the greatest need in criminal justice was the need to know (President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 1967). The commission’s recommendations fit with the policy approaches of President Johnson’s Great Society and provided a blueprint for the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 1967; Woolley and Peters, 2010).
At the time the commission was doing its work, no national research enterprise on crime and justice with federal leadership existed. There were a handful of organizations—the Vera Institute, the American Bar Foundation, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and the California Institute for the Study of Crime and Delinquency—that were conducting research projects, but there was no federal research leadership. The commission recommended a broad range of research efforts to address the