The Diffusion of Information Technology in Policing

Wesley G. Skogan and Susan M. Hartnett

This study examines the diffusion of innovation among municipal police departments in Northeastern Illinois. The opportunity to adopt an innovation arose when the Chicago Police Department (CPD) opened access to elements of its new centralized Data Warehouse to other criminal justice agencies. There is a long history of research on the diffusion of innovation, and a number of recent projects have applied this work to policing. Like innovation studies generally, this article presents the shape of the diffusion curve that describes the pace of adoption, and it examines factors associated with adoption and the extent to which the innovation was actually used. Adoption and extent of utilization proved to be largely independent processes. Involvement in cosmopolitan networks, experience with using databases for law enforcement, and the human capital capacities of the organizations influenced the adoption decision, while organizational resources and experience in using the system drove the level of actual use. The rapid growth of system utilization was apparently due to three factors: the active role played by the “evangelist” representing the host department; the fact that access to the system was free; and because it primarily empowered detectives – who enjoy a privileged position in policing – and did not challenge the traditional mission and organization of participating agencies.

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