Home Career Joseph McNamara: A Law Enforcement Leader Ahead of His Time

Joseph McNamara: A Law Enforcement Leader Ahead of His Time


By Michael Beshears, professor of criminal justice at American Military University

The law enforcement community has lost a pioneer and scholar. On September 19, Joseph D. McNamara, a police chief who dedicated his career and scholarly pursuits to revolutionizing policing strategies, died at the age of 79.

McNamara was a scholar at heart. He was the only police chief in the United States to hold a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Because he had such a strong academic background, McNamara understood the importance of research and led groundbreaking studies and innovative policing programs that would eventually change law enforcement strategies throughout the United States.

Implementing Law Enforcement Strategies Based on Research

Image from http://www.hoover.org/profiles/joseph-d-mcnamara
Joseph McNamara. Image retrieved from www.hoover.org

In 1973, McNamara became police chief of Kansas City, MO. His department’s involvement with the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment revealed that randomized patrolling only had a limited impact on crime. The experiment was administered by the Kansas City Police Department and evaluated by The Police Foundation, a non-profit foundation in Washington, DC dedicated to helping police become more effective. As a result of this research on patrolling strategies, police leaders around the country began thinking about different ways to use their patrol personnel (Kelling, Pate, Dieckman, & Brown, 1974).

Another study the Kansas City Police Department was involved with while McNamara was chief of police pertained to police response time. The purpose of the study was to assess the value of rapid response by police. This research concluded that, in most cases, rapid response did not help solve crimes nor did it deter serious crimes (Kansas City Police Department, 1980). Researchers noted that while a quick police response can increase the chance of making an on-scene arrest, the time it takes a citizen to report a crime generally predetermines the effect that police reaction time will have on the outcome. They also noted the need to develop a formal call-screening procedure so agencies could distinguish between emergency and non-emergency calls. Lastly, it was found that by increasing the efficiency and accuracy of dispatching, patrol officers had more time to interact with the community. This is a topic McNamara ended up dedicating his career to.

The Evolution of Community Policing
During his 35-year career in law enforcement, he helped initiate much needed changes with regard to police interactions with its citizens. McNamara implemented what he learned from his involvement in the aforementioned research when he served as the chief of police in San Jose, Calif. from 1976 to 1991. In addition to focusing on efficiency and effectiveness in patrolling, he is also credited with changing the San Jose community’s view of the police department from non-trusting to a climate of mutual respect.

McNamara understood that the ultimate goal of the community policing concept was to provide for a safer community. One way he did so was by recruiting more minority group members into the city’s mostly white police force. He also rooted out officers who were the subjects of excessive-force complaints. McNamara used his academic background to conduct neighborhood crime assessments and then used those statistics to more effectively deploy officers (Vitello, 2014).

Chief Joseph McNamara’s contributions as police chief in Kansas City and San Jose had a significant impact on law enforcement. Thanks to his innovative thinking, police executives today have a better understanding of the value of community involvement in law enforcement. The death of Joseph McNamara is a great loss to the law enforcement and the academic community.

About the Author: Michael L. Beshears has two B.S. degrees, one in psychology and another in criminal justice from Drury University. He also has two graduate degrees, a M.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a M.A. in health services management from Webster University. Mike is a retired senior noncommissioned Officer in the U.S. Army. His 22-year career includes work with the Special Forces, as well as assisting other agencies in their performance of criminal investigations. He has an extensive background in emergency medicine and intensive care medical treatment, as a Special Forces medic, emergency medical technician and licensed practical nurse. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in business with a concentration in criminal justice. He has three grown beautiful daughters Michele, Cora and Mollye. He resides with his wife Michelle and their son Hunter, and daughter Malia near Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes in Clarkridge, Arkansas. Mike is currently an assistant Professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is full-time faculty in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at michael.beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.


Kansas City Police Department. Response time analysis: Volume II, Part I—Crime Analysis. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1980:p.iii.

Kelling, G.L., Pate, A., Dieckman, D., & Brown, C.E. (1974). The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment: A technical report. Washington, D.C.: Police Foundation. pp.iii, 533–5.

Vitello, P. (2014. September 24). Joseph D. McNamara, father of community policing, dies at 79. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/us/joseph-d-mcnamara-father-of-community-policing-dies-at-79.html?_r=1



  1. I did not always agree with his points of view but they were thought provoking.

    I really enjoyed his novels. They were first rate police stories.

  2. McNamara was noted for his arrogance, leftist views, and contempt for the street cop. He considered himself (and stated as such) and publicized himself as “the nation’s smartest cop.” He considered himself smarter than other officers because of his uber-liberal views and his college degree.

    He also showed his contempt for citizen rights by acting as the poster boy for gun ban lobby groups.

    When I was in San Jose, McNamara was widely … almost universally … detested by both street cops and other higher-ranking officers. McNamara was adored by liberal politiicans and gun-banners who considered him “one of us in every way.”

    I hesitate to speak ill of the dead but am unable to discern anything good about him.


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