The May 5 obituary for Albert J. Reiss Jr. incorrectly identified described his definition of a "proactive" police encounter with private citizens. When officers intervene on their own, it is a proactive encounter; when officers respond to an invitation to intervene, it is a reactive encounter.
Albert J. Reiss Jr.; Coined 'Proactive' During Police Experiment
Albert J. Reiss Jr., 83, a retired Yale University sociology professor who coined the word "proactive" while doing research on police violence, died April 27 at a retirement community in Hamden, Conn. He had a series of small strokes.
As a research director for President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in 1966, Dr. Reiss sent 36 trained observers into the field to record the behavior of more than 11,000 people who had been involved in interactions with police. He found that some level of violence occurred in about 10 percent of the more than 5,000 incidents analyzed.
The risk of violence, he concluded, depended heavily on whether the police encounter was "proactive" or "reactive." He defined a proactive encounter as one in which police had been invited to intervene by a person at the scene. Police officers' intervention on their own initiative was a reactive encounter. A proactive encounter, he found, provoked less resistance by all people, including those placed under arrest.
Dr. Reiss's findings prompted some police departments to institute proactive practices. Eventually incorporating better computer software and rapid crime mapping, departments used his framework to define specific crime patterns and to "proactively" assign officers to deal with them.
Although the word "proactive" has become almost a cliche in corporate and governmental life, Dr. Reiss met resistance when he first used it in 1965. The American Sociological Review refused to print an article he co-authored that included the word, saying it didn't exist in the English language. The American Journal of Sociology printed his article in 1966, and the Oxford English Dictionary credits Dr. Reiss with its first printed use.
Albert John Reiss Jr. was born in Cascade, Wis., and received a bachelor's degree from Marquette University in 1944. He received a master's degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1949, both in sociology from the University of Chicago. He taught at Vanderbilt University, the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan, where he did his field research on police. He was named the William Graham Sumner Professor of Sociology at Yale University in 1970 and retired in 1993.
His marriage to Emma Hutto Reiss ended in divorce, although she had been his caretaker and companion in recent years.
Survivors include three children, Amy Reiss of Portland, Ore., Peter Reiss of Portola Valley, Calif., and Paul Reiss of New Canaan, Conn.; and seven grandchildren.