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Criminologist shares his ‘front-seat view’ of police work in the classroom

November 21, 2023
SFU criminologist Rylan Simpson, right, has a ‘front-seat view’ of police work that fulfills his passion for the field and informs his classes. Working alongside police agencies, Simpson has accumulated more than 1,500 hours of police ride-along experience.

SFU criminologist Rylan Simpson might have become a police officer if he hadn’t decided on a career teaching others about policing and crime. His ‘front-seat view’ of police work is now fulfilling his passion for the field and informing his classes.

Working closely alongside police agencies in various settings, Simpson has accumulated more than 1,500 hours of police ride-along experience. The result is a unique approach to teaching that highlights the overlaps between policing, research, and practice.

His experiences of riding along in police cars, boats and even helicopters have taken him from routine stops to serious crime scenes, as far away as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

“Observing the complexity of police work firsthand has informed both my understanding of policing as well as stimulated many of my research projects,” Simpson says. “Riding along with so many different police officers from so many different police agencies in so many different parts of the world has provided me unparalleled insight into the operational world of policing.”

Passionate about sharing his work in the public sphere, Simpson often conducts “tweet-alongs” when riding with officers in Canada – sharing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what a typical shift might entail for a frontline officer. His posts have amassed much public interest and generated important discussions about policing and research. 

Simpson and Senior Sergeant Smith, Queensland Police Service.

For Simpson, an assistant professor in SFU’s School of Criminology, what began as an effort to build relationships with a few officers has led to a strong rapport with police agencies across the Lower Mainland.

Simpson now works closely with different agencies locally and internationally to conduct research on topics relevant to policing and its many components.

An avid scholar in the field, Simpson has published research on topics highly relevant to law enforcement in recent years, such as police uniforms and accoutrements, police recruiting materials, and police use of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also explored the effects of police interventions on crime and studied the characteristics of police organisations and their personnel.

Police agencies often call on Simpson with inquiries regarding general areas of research, specific projects they are working on, and collaboration opportunities.

His work is also drawing recognition. Simpson recently received the Outstanding Collective Body of Research Award from the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology’s Policing Thematic Group. The award recognizes his collaborative research with the Queensland Police Service that explores how police uniforms and accoutrements impact public perceptions of officers, as well as officers’ perceptions of themselves and each other. Simpson also won the Best Paper of 2022 Award from Police Practice and Research for his article which explores the role of police in conducting wellness checks.  

Simpson on a ride-along with Cst. Page, formerly Abbotsford Police Department

Simpson’s strong connection with the policing community enables him to connect with different agencies and officers to leverage learning opportunities for his students.

In his introductory policing course, Simpson invites police officers to participate in panel discussions about important course topics, including police leadership and patrol operations. Past guests have ranged from frontline officers (i.e., constables, sergeants) to executive leadership members (i.e., superintendents, chiefs). In his upper-division seminar, Simpson routinely hosts police officials from communities across the region to discuss their community policing practices. 

Simpson (second from right), pictured alongside police leadership panel members (left to right: Chief Mike Serr (now retired from Abbotsford Police Department), Chief Dave Jones (now retired from Metro Vancouver Transit Police), Chief Superintendent Galib Bhayani (now retired from RCMP), and Inspector Kathy Hartwig (Burnaby RCMP).

“I’ve found that my students really enjoy the panel discussions and conversations with officers – they offer opportunities and connections that students may otherwise not receive outside of the course,” Simpson says. “When field trips aren’t possible, I like to bring the field into my classroom.”

Simpson hopes that his approach will help bolster relationships between police officers and citizens and highlight how both groups can benefit each other when working together. He also hopes that he can help to improve policing through his work.

“Now more than ever, police agencies require evidence-based solutions to address pressing social challenges,” he says. “My goal is to help promote evidence-based practice and decision-making within policing.”