After graduate work at the University of Michigan, Locke became the first executive director of the Citizens Committee for Equal Opportunity in Detroit from 1962–1965. Subsequently, he was appointed administrative assistant to the Detroit Commissioner of Police (1966–1967); adjunct assistant professor of urban education and fellow of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University (1967–1972); and dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service and associate professor of urban studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (1972–1975). He came to the University of Washington in 1976 as professor of public affairs and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1977, Locke was appointed vice provost for academic affairs, and in 1982, dean of the Evans School.
Locke's major research interests are management and policy issues in American policing, but he devotes a considerable amount of his spare time to examining the experiences of German society during the era of National Socialism. He has also written and edited several books as well as numerous chapters in publications dealing with race, criminal justice, religion, and public policy.
Locke is a board member of the Bullitt Foundation, Common Cause, the Institute of European Studies, and the Pacific School of Religion. In addition, he is currently the chair of the State Sentencing Guidelines Commission.