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Robert Nash Parker

Professor of Sociology
Robert Nash Parker
Policy Solutions that Control Crime
Forty percent of all violent crimes in the U.S. are alcohol-related. Two groundbreaking recent studies by Professor Parker and colleagues have given policymakers, and the local communities they serve, actionable ways to control such crimes, protect the victims and aide youths who perpetrate them.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Member of the Coordinating Council of the Kettil Bruun Society
  • Board member of the Research Committee 29 of the International Sociological Association

Latest Research


Q: Describe your research.
My research is about the impact on violence of alcohol use, alcohol abuse and access to alcohol. My research also addresses the role that the legal control of alcohol use and access to alcohol can play in violence prevention. A second and related aspect of my research is designing studies to evaluate the impact of crime and justice policies on the prevention and reduction of violent crime. If an expensive program like three strikes claims that the policy reduces violence, I want to conduct research that evaluates whether this claim is true. If the claim is not true, then the question of how we can more effectively use the limited resources we have to prevent and reduce violence can also be addressed in my research.

Q: How is your research important to society?
Everyone would like to have less violence and fewer deaths and injuries caused by violence in our communities, in our families, in our state and in our nation.  If we can better understand the role that alcohol plays in causing violence, and if we can understand how our laws and regulations about access to alcohol influence how much alcohol people use and abuse, we can act to strengthen and reinforce laws and regulations around access to alcohol. As a result, we can prevent alcohol-related violence. This research is also of primary importance to society because conducting impact and cost effectiveness studies of our policies insures that we can achieve the best outcomes using our scarce public resources most effectively.

Q: What are the big challenges researchers in your field are trying to address?
One of the biggest challenges in the study of the causes and prevention of violence is that many people, especially political leaders, are often more interested in ideological approaches to the problem of violence than they are in scientific approaches. For example, many people do not accept the idea that a behavior like using alcohol, which is so enjoyable for many people, can also be the cause of negative outcomes like violence. People instead want to blame illegal drugs—something the vast majority of people do not use—as the cause of violence. Similarly, people want to believe the three strikes policy caused violence to drop in California, when there is no scientific evidence to support this idea. So the biggest challenge in my research is to overcome people’s beliefs and assumptions about what causes and prevents violence, as compared to what the research actually shows.

Q: What doesn’t the public know or understand about this kind of research?
People seldom believe that alcohol is the substance that, by its use and abuse, causes the most violence in our society. It is a myth that illegal drugs are the cause of violence, when it is clearly alcohol that should be our focus for prevention of violence.

Q: Who are the most influential public voices in your field and what are they saying?
One of the most influential figures in Criminology is Robert Sampson of Harvard University. He is trying to tell the public about another big myth—that immigrants cause violence in our society. Sampson’s research shows that immigrants in fact make our society safer, something many people who are ideologically opposed to immigration do not want to hear.

Q: What does "Living the Promise" mean to you?
Living the promise means using the resources UCR and the State of California has provided the Presley Center to do the best I can to work with local governments, law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, community organizations and informed residents to do research and impact studies on violence and its causes. It also means making sure that the results of these studies provide the information everyone needs to reduce and prevent violence, and to make sure our policies are effective and cost effective in doing so.

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do research, compared with other institutions?
The Presley Center, established by the California Legislature and placed under the control of UCR in 1993, is the only research center in California funded by the public to examine the causes of crime and violence in California and elsewhere, and to assess the impact and cost effectiveness of policies designed to reduce crime and violence. Having the Center to provide basic support, infrastructure and space for the research and outreach activities involved in this effort distinguishes UCR from other UC campuses and other universities in the state.

Q: In your spare time, what are you reading?
I read science fiction for pleasure, as well as history. I am currently reading Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the American Civil War.

Q: Do you have a personal hero?
I think too much emphasis is placed on heroes and celebrities today. Everyone can be their own hero or celebrity by doing the very best at what they love to do, and to be guided by that thought as they decide how to engage the world and make it a better place to live.

Q: If you had unlimited resources and no constraints, what would you do to further your research?
I would conduct a number of evaluations of alternative policies concerning access to alcohol, drug treatment, prison policies, police strategies and related crime and justice issues that would give us a much better basis for reforming our crime and justice polices, as well as being more cost effective while achieving the maximum reductions in violence. I would set up "test" communities where any suggested new changes in crime and justice policies could be examined on a small scale, quickly and cost effectively, to see if they worked in 5 to 10 communities in California, before the policy changes were put into place statewide at enormous cost. Setting up such a testing ground would have allowed us to avoid costly and ineffective programs like three strikes.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
My students inspire me in many ways: By the questions they are willing to ask, because no one has taught them that some questions are not worth asking ideologically or politically; by the hard work they engage in; by the contributions they make to the research projects at the Presley Center; to the way they take what I teach them and use it in creative and exciting ways I would never have thought of; by the way their diverse backgrounds and experiences bring me new ideas and approaches; in all these ways and more.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
This is a very exciting time to be starting out in your careers and lives—exciting is both good and bad! Good because some of the issues coming to the fore now in society and politics are fundamental, the outcomes of which will change the future in significant ways. To play a part in that, to enact it, is exciting. Change does not always produce good outcomes, and so it is also exciting because so much is at stake. Will we be a society that fosters opportunity and positive outcomes for all? Or will we be a society where the rich get richer and the poor and middle class get left behind? My advice is to learn all you can, get as much technical and substantive knowledge as possible, and then try to use all that for addressing these questions, with the goal of leading us to a better society. This will truly be exciting—in all senses of the word! Most of all, follow your passion—what you believe in—not what your teachers, your parents or your political leaders tell you. By going after what you truly desire, only then will you achieve the best you can. Do not let convention limit your dreams.

Robert Nash Parker "Alcohol control can be an important tool in preventing violence and youth homicide in and around neighborhood retail liquor outlets. The potential benefits of reduced violence outweigh any potential harm that the banning or limitation of such sales would create."

—Robert Nash Parker