Albert J. Reiss, Jr., a prominent criminologist known for his work on the systematic observation of police officers, died last week at 83. He was an emeritus sociology professor at Yale University. Lawrence Sherman, a former student of Reiss and now director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, noted that as a research director for President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1966, Reiss “pioneered a new method of studying violence by direct observation in natural settings using laboratory-like precision.” His 36 trained observers to recorded the behavior of 11,255 citizens in 5,360 incidents, in about 10 percent of which some level of violence emerged. Reiss found that the risk of violence depended heavily on whether the police encounter was “proactive” or “reactive.” Sherman says that Reiss's analysis of the “distinction between reactive and proactive police work helped shape a revolution in police practices, in which police leaders took control of decisions to launch proactive strategies.”
Reiss received an Honorary LL.D. from John Jay College in 1981. He served as a consultant to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was a past president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the American Society of Criminology. Among his publications are “The Police and the Public; Indicators of Crime and Criminal Justice,” and “Understanding and Preventing Violence.” There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. this Saturday, May 6, in Dwight Chapel at Yale. Donations may be made for the Albert J. Reiss, Jr. Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Crime, Law & Deviance, to the American Sociological Association, 1307 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20005.