As a student at the prestigious Chinese People’s Public Security University in Beijing, the cradle of future police leadership, Dr. Ling Ren “unconsciously” fell in love with policing and wanted to learn more about new trends in the field from western scholars.
“My family believed it would be good for my future, and I really seized the opportunity,” said Dr. Ren. “When I met my professors and my classmates, there was an instant click. This is because I like the whole culture. It was like a magnet that attracts my attention to the research on policing.”
A native of Chongqing in Southwest China, Dr. Ren received her Bachelor and Master’s degree in Beijing. Instead of landing a comfortable job in the field of policing, she decided to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She was impressed by the research opportunities available in the United States in police and the dynamic relationship among police and the policed. She also admitted, “The decision of coming to US was partially influenced by the Hollywood movies, which made me believe at that time the gravity of real police work was centered in US."
Since joining Sam Houston State University in 2008, Dr. Ren has been involved in several research projects with her esteemed colleagues, including the Houston Police Department Citizen Contact/Impression Survey, the Enhanced Action Patrol program in Houston and a Self-Report Juvenile Delinquency Survey in Hangzhou, China.
“Over the years, I have been very fortunate to work with many talented scholars on various research projects,” said Dr. Ren. “I feel the collectivism and teamwork helps promote intellectual growth for all the participants and enhances the quality of the scholarship.”
Dr. Ling Ren visits Yun Garden with her students during a Study Abroad trip to China. Dr. Ren also enjoyed teaching and working with her students in the classroom and during Study Abroad Trips to China, which she has led since 2010. She credits the College’s partnership with Zhejiang Police College with expanding opportunities to learn about police practices in the country by visiting police department, substations, and the 9-1-1 call center.
“The police work is distinctively different from here in the US,” Dr. Ren said. “There is no ride along program with the police in China but most likely, you will be 'walking along' with unarmed police officers in the neighborhoods. It is good for your health and fitness.”
During the trip, students were exposed to the police-related issues in China by academic exchanges with the police cadets, interacting with policing professionals, and visiting the major metropolitan police departments. They also learned a different culture by experiencing its foods and language.
"My students say it was an unforgettable experience that truly broadened their academic horizons,” Dr. Ren added. “The trip gives me the rare opportunity to have numerous interactions with my students on an hourly basis. To me, the best part of the trip is to get to know my students, their characters and their academic goals. Many of them have been in touch with me since the trip.”
As a teacher, Dr. Ren loves to see her students grow and succeed. One shy young man in her Research Methods class recently returned for a visit. He is now a probation officer who was excited to tell her about his job, and the services he provides to his clients in the real world.
“He looked strong, and he’s becoming more professional in his field,” said Dr. Ren. “He was so proud talking about his current job and what he was doing. It is rewarding to see students achieve their goals and be successful.”
Dr. Ren keeps a busy research schedule, collaborating with many SHSU students and faculty. Dr. Ren and her colleagues are wrapping up data collection on the third wave of the Citizen Contact/Impression Project with the Houston Police Department. The first wave, which began in 2008, represents a joint effort between scholars and practitioners to improve the quality of service delivered by the Houston Police Department.
The primary purpose of the survey is to inform the department of community perceptions of the services they are offering including police control of violent, property and disorder crimes. In addition, researchers seek to examine the correlates of citizen attitudes toward the police, include such issues as fear of crime, victimization and neighborhood dynamics.
“The latest round of surveys included a concentration on cell phone users only, who utilize the device as their only telephone service,” said Dr. Ren. “ Of the 1,585 responses, 240 were from cell phone users only. Given the fact that about 30% of the Houstonians are cell phone users only, the innovation in technology has pushed the research on public opinion of the police to a new frontier. Time has flown by since landline phone was a luxury household item when Truman was running for the President and he 'lost' according to Chicago Tribune.”
“I will be very curious to see if there are differences between the landline and cell phone users,” Dr. Ren said. “According to the research, cell phone users only are more likely to be young, renters and minorities.”
Dr. Ren also worked with SHSU’s Police Research Center under the leadership of Dr. Larry Hoover on the Houston Advanced Action Patrol (HEAP) project measuring the effects of deploying limited additional police patrols to chronic high crime locations. The project will generate valuable information which the Houston Police Department can use in making patrol deployment decisions, including the optimal number of additional patrol units that should be deployed and the optimal amount of time that additional patrol resources should be sustained to reduce crime in high crime locations. It also will add to the body of knowledge about the effects of hot spots policing that would be shared broadly with academic and police practitioner audiences.
Finally, Dr. Ren was part of a team that surveyed Chinese students to examine the prevalence and incidence of juvenile delinquency. Done in conjunction with Zhejiang Provincial Juvenile Delinquency Institute, the study was designed to test the feasibility of using self-report methodology to assess juvenile misbehavior in Chinese settings; to describe the prevalence and incidence of juvenile offending and victimization among 7th-9th graders in different types of schools (e.g., public vs. private vs. special schools for the children of migrant population); and to examine the importance of individual-level characteristics, school and neighborhood context for self-reported delinquency and victimization (e.g., school types, social bonding, self control, life style, and routine activities).
“Doing empirical research in China is very challenging and having initial access to schools is very difficult,” said Dr. Ren.
As a native of China, Dr. Ren can provide her students with real-life comparisons between the two dramatically different criminal justice systems. In China, the system is deeply rooted in the informal mechanism of social control such as close interactions between police officers and residents in a casual manner. For example, the traditional style of policing in China, where one to two police are assigned to a small office located in the middle of a neighborhood, is akin to the concept of community policing. Those officers are walking in their beats and required to know most residents not only by their names but also their birthdays and hobbies. The trust is established in a casual way, not through the effect of deterrence.
“It is very strong social control, but also the police generally maintain good relationships,” Dr. Ren said.
Recently, the Chinese are beginning to adopt some westernized programs, such as problem-oriented police in which law enforcement tailors their efforts toward particular problems in individual neighborhood, or hot spot policing, where police get detailed information about a high crime area and use it to develop proactive strategies.
“I am deeply indebted to the research opportunities here,” said Dr. Ren. “In comparison, most studies in China are qualitative in nature.”
Still Dr. Ren hopes the work she does here will have an impact in her home country.
“I also hope my research will have an impact or deliver a useful message to my home country on the trends in policing,” Dr. Ren said.