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Lifetime Achievement Award for Mason Criminology Professor

November 20, 2015   /   by Buzz McClain

Stephen D. Mastrofski, University Professor, Criminology Law and Society. Photo by Creative Services/George Mason University

Stephen Mastrofski has never made an arrest, but on Thursday, Nov. 19, he’ll receive the inaugural lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Criminology’s Policing Division.

“They haven’t told me yet why they’re giving it to me. Probably because I’ve been around so long,” he joked.

Mastrofski, a professor at George Mason University’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society since 1999, is being modest. It is especially meaningful to be the first to receive the award, and he is very grateful for it, he said.

“My scholarship has focused primarily on human behavior,” Mastrofski said. “Why do police behave the way they do? How does the police force behave as an organizational entity and why?”

The award recognizes an academic body of work that, according to Mason colleague and frequent collaborator James Willis, is “impressive in its breadth and rigor.”

“Steve embodies all the elements of what it means to be a scholar,” Willis said. “Rather than following what is fashionable, he has spent his career identifying gaps in current research and filling them.”

Mastrofski discovered an affinity for legal procedure as a young officer in the Navy when he was called on to defend enlisted men’s petty charges on a small ship. As he rose through the ranks he became executive officer and found himself as the ship’s prosecutor, an experience that allowed him to see that side of legal procedure.

He’s devoted his academic career—first at Penn State, then at Michigan State before coming to Mason—to studying police and policing with the eye of the political scientist that he is.

Many of his current research projects reflect priorities listed by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing, co-chaired by Mason Robinson Professor Laurie Robinson. One is a study of the outcome when police show fairness and avoid being disrespectful with citizens who are misbehaving.

“Citizens show an increased likelihood of complying,” he said. The method is known as “procedural justice,” an important part of the task force’s recommendations.

With colleagues from several universities, he is also investigating for the Department of Justice a system for monitoring and collecting data on all aspects of policing from dozens of police agencies to determine strengths and weaknesses, another Task Force recommendation.

Mastrofski has published 213 papers as of July 2015—most of them in the elite publications of the field, according to Willis—and been cited nearly 5,000 times in a 39-year career.

And he’s not finished. He’s at work demonstrating that the longer a police officer has worked his or her shift, “the amount of procedural justices goes down,” he said.

“Working with people [as a police officer] is emotional and cognitive work. So if you are going to have an encounter with the police, have it early in the shift and you’ll likely get more procedural justice.”