Arthur Niederhoffer (1917-1981), a street cop turned sociologist, was revered as a charismatic role model by thousands of police officers and students he taught, advised, and inspired. His multifaceted career in law enforcement as police officer, attorney, professor, author, and researcher broadened and sharpened his in-depth perspectives on the police.

Born in New York City, Niederhoffer, interestingly, as a child loved walking past the neighborhood police station. Educated in the city’s public schools, Niederhoffer was encouraged in academics and athletics by his parents. His father, Martin, a court interpreter, graduated from City College in New York City. A brilliant student, Nie-derhoffer entered Brooklyn College at the age of fifteen and competed on the football and handball teams. After his graduation in 1937, he went on to Brooklyn Law School, where he earned his LL.B. cum laude (later converted to J.D. cum laude). In 1940, the same year he was admitted to the New York State Bar as an attorney, he joined the New York City Police Department. As a result of the depressed economy, there were fewer opportunities for lawyers, and he thought that as a policeman he would be able to put his legal background to use ”I learned about police work by pounding a beat,” Niederhoffer often candidly admitted. He rose through the ranks— appointed sergeant in 1951, promoted to lieutenant in 1956. He achieved four departmental recognition awards for meritorious performance. In two separate incidents he rescued suicidal women—each 250 pounds—from drowning in the East River. After both acts of heroism he had to be hospitalized briefly due to the effects of submersion. In addition, he won a tuition grant for outstanding educational attainment in police-related studies.

During the final period of his twenty-one-year police career, Niederhoffer instructed, supervised, and trained recruits at the New York City Police Academy. As curriculum development officer in charge, he raised the educational level and requirements of the training program. He also lectured to community groups and did psychological testing, personnel evaluation, and research into the quality and performance of police at the academy.

In 1960 he served as executive aide to the police liaison officer of the American Institute for Research (AIR), a nationally known research group cosponsored by the Russell Sage and Rockefeller foundations. AIR conducted a long-range research program in the New York City Police Department aimed at improving selection and training procedures.

While still on the force, Niederhoffer returned to Brooklyn College and in 1956 earned a master’s degree in sociology, conferred summa cum laude, an honor rarely bestowed by the department. His first topic, The Gang: A Study of Adolescent Behavior (1958), written with sociologist Herbert A. Bloch, is based on Niederhoffer’s masters thesis. From their extensive study of adolescent behavior in a variety of cultures, the researchers theorized that when a society does not make adequate provisions for the passage of adolescents into adult status, youths create equivalent groups to fill the void. Sometimes these groups become subverted into delinquent gangs. Bloch and Niederhof-fer’s theory is recognized in the field as an important explanation for juvenile delinquency.

Inspired by his successful return to academia, Niederhoffer continued his studies at New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Science. He was granted his Ph.D. in 1963, two years after his retirement from the police department.

”The job controls a police officer’s life when he is on the force, and it haunts him when he leaves. Once a cop, always a cop,” he asserted. Underscoring this credo, he drew upon his police career as a frame of reference for his doctoral dissertation, ”The Mobile Force: A Study of Police Cynicism.” He devised a questionnaire consisting of twenty open-ended statements about significant areas of police work to test eleven hypotheses concerning cynicism in an urban police department and administered it to a sample of 220 police officers.

From the analysis of his data, Niederhoffer concluded that cynicism becomes part of the occupational ideology learned by socialization into the police force. It is in the police academy that recruits initially acquire the stereotyped patterns of cynical attitudes, which are reinforced in the course of their police careers. He pointed out, however, that a police officer’s attitude toward his role can change over time and can vary with his experience and background. For example, the brand new recruit will be less cynical than the more seasoned recruit. The recruit will be less cynical than the more experienced police officer. Superior officers will be less cynical than patrolmen. Patrolmen with a college education will be more cynical than their counterparts without education.

From this research study, Niederhoffer devised a cynicism scale, a linear causal model, which has been widely replicated to gauge cynicism in other urban police departments as well as in other occupations and professions.

Niederhoffer had always wanted to teach upon his retirement from the department. ”I always had the vision of the scholar. To me the greatest honor is to be a man of learning and have people come to you and learn from you,” he said. Consequently, the former police officer launched his professorial career with teaching stints at Queens, Brooklyn, and Baruch colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY); Hofstra University; Long Island University; and New York University. To his subject matter—courses in police administration, delinquency, police science, human relations, criminal justice, and sociology/anthropology—he contributed original thinking, historical and sociological perspectives, and an insider’s down-to-earth overview, undergirded by his more than twenty-one years of police experience, with the added perk: a storehouse of colorful police anecdotes to enhance his teaching. He understood the problems of law enforcement, its stresses, and pressures. He had not been just a participant/observer riding along for several months in a radio patrol car.

In 1967, he moved permanently to John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) as a professor of sociology, where he taught for fourteen productive years— stimulating, enriching, and inspiring his students and colleagues. Significantly, he was much appreciated as a conciliator, able to link police science and more traditional academic branches of the college.

On the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of John Jay College, Niederhof-fer was awarded the college’s presidential medal; not only was he the first and only member of the faculty to receive this honor, but he was also unanimously chosen. President Gerald W. Lynch, when presenting the award, described Nieder-hoffer as an ”individual who exemplifies the genius of our faculty, who personifies the best tradition of the great scholar, teacher, and counselor to student and colleagues alike. He is a wonderful human being and one of the loveliest people I know.” The citation reads:

For your extraordinary and continuing career as a scholar, teacher, researcher, and author, for your outstanding contributions to the intellectual development of the field of criminal justice; for your seminal scholarship and numerous publications in sociology and criminology, and for your example to us all in the great tradition of the scholar professor.

With his students and colleagues he discussed topical and perplexing police questions such as, How does an idealistic rookie become cynical? Why are police vulnerable to corruption? Does police authoritarianism come into the force along with the recruits? Exploring these issues and probing some of the internal problems of police work motivated Niederhoffer to write his next topic, Behind the Shield: The Police in Urban Society (1967). Grounded in his police experience and insights and supplemented by intensive interviews with police officers in other cities, the retired police officer/professor lifted the ”blue curtain” of secrecy that had screened police work until then. Although it is an insider’s view of an urban police department, it is not a critique or an expose. Rather, it is a thoughtful, meticulously researched and documented study of the sociology of the police, written by a practicing sociologist, but without the sociological jargon.

In Behind the Shield Niederhoffer delineates a psychological and sociological profile of the urban police officer and the social forces that mold his personality. He examines a variety of police activities and describes in a series of vignettes the making of and molding of police officers—the rookie, the detective, the college man, the supervisor, and the old-timer. Niederhoffer analyzes and evaluates why they choose a police career, how they are trained, and what pressures they encounter. And he concludes that ”it is the police system, not the personality of the candidate, that is the more powerful determinant of behavior and ideology.” For example, on authoritarianism he comments:

… Police authoritarianism does not come into the force along with the recruits, but rather is inculcated through strenuous socialization and experience in the police social system.

… The police occupational system is geared to manufacture the ”take-charge guy,” and it succeeds in doing so with outstanding efficiency. … The hostility and fear that press almost palpably against a policeman in lower-class areas aggravates his impulse to get tough.

… Since the policeman feels justified and righteous in using power and toughness to perform his duties, he feels like a martyr when he is charged with brutality and abuse of power.

Behind the Shield had been published shortly after racial riots—which many were convinced were triggered by police action—in Rochester, New York; Philadelphia; New York’s Harlem; the Watts section of Los Angeles; and Newark,

New Jersey. Consequently, the spotlight of the nation focused on the police. As a former police lieutenant, Niederhoffer had been able to put into words, with empathy and respect for the police image, what police officers actually live through. And as a professor of sociology he had the clout and credibility to clarify controversial police issues, tempered by his sociological insights. His national reputation escalated to the point where he was recognized as one of the foremost experts on police problems. A dynamic, down-to-earth, and provocative speaker, he was invited to lecture, participate in conferences on the police, and evaluate law enforcement programs all over the United States and in Canada.

Moreover, he was never afraid to step over the official ”blue” line to express his convictions that targeted controversial police issues. Consider, for instance, his comments on crime:

… [C]rime is a community problem, not a police problem. A larger police force is not the answer.

On the legal system:

… [P]olice are solidly aligned against the U.S. Supreme Court, which they suspect is slowly but surely dismantling the hallowed foundation of law enforcement. I do not feel that Supreme Court decisions shackle police. Police will develop new techniques of investigation that will make them more effective.

On professionalism in police work:

… [T]he great stumbling block is in police work’s traditionally low status in our culture. The public holds fast to the derogatory stereotypes of the grafting cop, the sadistic cop, the dumb cop, the chiseling cop, and the thick-brogued cop. There can be no profession where the public refuses to grant high status and prestige.

… [T]he rookie police officer is faced with the dilemma of choosing between the professional ideals acquired during his academy training and the pragmatic approach of the precinct—the requirements of the job.

On college education:

… We can’t assume that education makes ”A” a better police officer than ”B,” but education can improve a person. College can increase knowledge and give one a more open mind—perhaps more tolerant and sophisticated in what to look for— with more insights and alternatives for action.

… I feel that there is a danger in having an elite police force. I believe that the police force should be more representative of the population at large and permit a great number of persons without college degrees to enter. Although I would encourage every department to encourage as much as possible the study and improvement of the force by education at every rank.

And finally, with prophetic vision on the future of policing in America:

… There are three things that are very important: first, unionization. There is a split in the ranks over professionalism and unionism. (My prediction is that unionism will win because it appeals more and gives more protection to the officer at the lower echelon.) Next is the introduction of women into police work. And the third is the spread of college training for police.

Additionally, Niederhoffer applied his perceptions concerning law enforcement in a concrete way to the escalating problems of crime and violence in inner cities. He participated in several hands-on projects with the same objective—to build a bridge between the police and the community. Under the aegis of New York City’s then-Mayor John V. Lindsay, Niederhof-fer in 1968 helped to organize and supervise a community police corps to combat crime in Harlem. This innovative plan established a youth patrol using local residents to assist the police by performing certain street patrol functions to prevent crime. In the same year he was recruited, along with Alexander B. Smith, by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to submit a report entitled ”The Development and Impact of the Police-Community Relations Project of the Office of Juvenile Delinquency.” To assess the project, Smith and Niederhoffer visited eight police-community relations programs, conducted extensive interviews, and observed the plan in action.

In his most ambitious research to date, Niederhoffer functioned as director of research in a two-year-long major study during 1970-1971, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Technical Assistance in Criminal Justice, Washington, D.C. Niederhoffer critiqued, evaluated, and commented on more than three hundred proposals on police, courts, criminal justice, crime prevention, and other subjects, already submitted to the institute for funding by LEAA and on ongoing and/or completed activities of institute grantees and contractors.

This in-depth project for LEAA underscored for him how strands of police action are inextricably intertwined with law enforcement and the fate of society. In his view:

… [P]olice will be at the storm center of each episode of crisis or catastrophe that is bound to occur in the ghetto, on the campus, at demonstrations, or wherever social protest is most threatening … . Society is asking the police not only to protect it, but also to preserve it. The people of America turn to them as saviors and demand an end to lawlessness and violence.

Responding to this mandate in his own way, the retired police lieutenant published three more topics and numerous articles in professional journals related to police and law enforcement (see References and Further Reading). Long Island University honored Niederhoffer with its Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his achievements in criminal justice.

In The Ambivalent Force: Perspectives on the Police (1970), a topic of readings edited by Niederhoffer and Abraham S. Blumberg, the coeditors examine the harsh ambiguities and ambivalences of the police role. As a result of the tensions and conflicts of the occupation, police officers need more than technical and legalistic training. To broaden police perspectives, Niederhoffer and Blumberg present police in their anthology in a social, historical, and comparative setting, assembling articles by experts in their fields—the academic behavioral scientist, the journalist, the lawyer, the psychologist, the police officer, and the historian.

Building on their mounting interest in police-community relations, Niederhoffer and Smith wrote New Directions in Police-Community Relations (1974). Previously, the researchers had jointly paid on-site visits to police-community relations projects for their evaluation report to the Office of Juvenile Delinquency, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. And, as research director for the LEAA study, Niederhoffer had reviewed numerous police-community programs. Smith, too, had been involved with community relations units of the police department when he headed a study of law enforcement efforts to prevent and control the illegal distribution and sale of pornography. New Directions in Police-Community Relations offers a practical guide to police-community relations, utilizing case studies, questionnaires, and interviews. To observe programs in action, the coauthors visited sites in New Orleans; Wilmington, Delaware; Houston, Texas; Enfield, Connecticut; Philadelphia; and New York City.

Niederhoffer subsequently explored the personal side of life on the force by contemplating such varied questions as, How does police work affect family relationships? Does the occupation precipitate suicide, marital instability, or divorce? Niederhoffer and his wife, Elaine, investigated these complex and pressing problems in The Police Family: From Station House to Ranch House (1978). In their well-documented topic, the coauthors employed questionnaires, interviews, surveys, and rap sessions with officers in major police departments, their spouses, and their children and with police chaplains, revealing a behind-the-scenes view of the pressures on the families of police officers. Moreover, because the Niederhoffers lived for more than twenty years within the ”blue circle,” they were able to enliven their empirical study with personal anecdotes.

Admittedly, the couple wrote, ”the shadow of the job darkens family relationships”; the omnipresent sense of danger arouses fear for the safety of loved ones; the oppressive revolving duty chart disrupts family routines; the high visibility of the police family’s activities promotes surveillance by the community and media. But the Niederhoffers found that, by and large, police families made peace with the occupation; they coped with the distressing problems endemic to police work. The job ”may be a jealous mistress,” but ”if the marriage is O.K., the job is O.K.” Of course, marital dissatisfaction and unhappiness can affect working satisfaction, and occupational demands can cause marital dissatisfaction. ”The rate of divorce for the occupation as a whole rises no higher than the average level of divorce in the United States. Divorce police style equates with divorce American style.” And similarly, ”… the rate of police suicide is about the same as that for the national adult male population.”

Niederhoffer read what was to be his last paper, ”Myths and Realities in Criminal Justice,” at a meeting of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) in November 1980, feeling as vigorous as ever. He was elected a fellow of the ASC by his colleagues. Shortly after his return he was hospitalized, losing his heroic eight-year battle with lymphoma, and died on January 14, 1981. (In his typical courageous and dedicated way, he managed to grade papers and write to his students during the January intersession.)

At his memorial service, John Jay College President Gerald W. Lynch said:

… Arthur is the prototype of what John Jay College is; the practitioner who stood on the front line of police work; the thinker and explainer to us all of the reasons for social deviance and the proper responsibilities and limits of social control; the man of strong compassion for his fellow human beings who strove to help us understand police work and its stress, as well as the criminals the police must deal with.

In loving tribute, his colleagues, friends, and relatives established the Arthur Niederhoffer Memorial Fellowship, awarded annually to students in the doctoral program in criminal justice at John Jay College who ”best epitomize in academic achievement and in the promise of future fulfillment the professional accomplishments of Arthur Niederhoffer.”

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