Notes for the Rural Criminologist: Conducting Field Research with Rural Law Enforcement




rural police, rural criminology, qualititative methods, research challenges, field research


Drawing primarily on research with law enforcement officers in rural East Texas, this research note explores the practical challenges of conducting qualitative research with rural police and provides tips for successfully overcoming the barriers that arise. Conducting qualitative research in a rural setting, especially with rural law enforcement agencies and officers, presents unique challenges. As with all rural investigations, defining ‘rural’ and identifying a target space to study is the first substantial hurdle. Once a rural community has been identified, the researcher will face issues related to the geographic distance or isolation of their chosen community that can affect their physical access to the research site and data. Traveling to and navigating rural spaces requires extensive preparation that may be easily overlooked if the researcher is accustomed to collecting data in and from urban cities and agencies. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, challenges involving sociocultural access accompany rural research projects. Regarding law enforcement specifically, the intersection of the rural community’s culture, dense social networks, and an often-distinct occupational police subculture can either be advantageous, or present obstacles, to successful completion of research. Furthermore, the rural researcher must consider their physical and emotional safety when interviewing, engaging, or participating with first responders. Backup may be delayed due to the geographic expansiveness of an agency’s jurisdiction and the fact that few officers are patrolling at a given time, and treatment in the event of a tragic encounter may be limited due to the lack – sometimes simultaneously in quantity and quality – of healthcare facilities and providers.






Research Notes