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Jason Potts is a Lieutenant with the Vallejo Police Department where he has served for 17 years. He is a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) LEADS Scholar, an ASEBP board member, and a Police Foundation Fellow. He is also a Reserve Special Agent with the Coast Guard Investigative Service and has a background in drug, gang, and general investigations. He is a former member of the Vallejo Police Department SWAT Team and possesses a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in Criminology, Law and Society from UC Irvine.
Recently two National Institute of Justice LEADS Scholars, Captain Cory Nelson of the Madison Police Department and Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson 1 of the Darien Police Department contributed articles to Translational Criminology (Spring 2018 edition) – a magazine of the center for evidence-based crime policy at George Mason University – see attached (2, 3). Board members at ASEBP recommend reading these compelling articles. The following are short summaries:
Captain Cory Nelson described in a persuasive piece, his initial reluctance for evidence-based policing before being selected as a LEADS Scholar, citing concerns that it might not translate to the real world (2). However, he was fortunate to observe a master class on evidence-based policing by esteemed Professors Cynthia Lum and Chris Koper and because of that course, his enthusiasm and shift in thinking increased exponentially – especially when hearing of the potential benefits of implementing the Koper Curve at his police department. As we know, the Koper Curve Principle suggests that police can effectively create a residual deterrent effect by spending 15 minutes every two hours at hotspots engaged in various activities such as citizen engagement. He and the crime analysts employed by Madison PD targeted tested and tracked shooting incidents in multiple hotspots. Armed with research examples, they then formulated a plan where officers would visit these hotspots four times a day during an eight-hour shift. While implementing their interventions, something remarkable happened to Cory and his colleagues. He discovered that officers thoroughly enjoyed being given clear direction and purpose toward fighting crime in specific problem areas. During the three months of their interventions, Madison PD observed a 72 percent decline in violent crimes and a 66 percent reduction in shots fired incidents and hotspot patrols/engagements during the testing and tracking of those hotspot areas. Cory and his colleagues, seemingly debunked many who believe cops dislike deterring crime as it isn’t perceived as being very exciting– me being one of them. I genuinely believe that most cops enjoy the hunt, the benefits of autonomy and discretion, and really just dislike the boredom of deterrence, but when you seemingly provide clear task where they are empowered to see and own the outcomes, then we see the results of evidence-based policing concepts such as what was impressively done in Madison to combat shooting incidents. Most veteran cops realize the perils of boredom for cops, which occasionally creates the antithesis of effective policing, but at the same time, most would agree with the assertion that “crime prevention coupled with the absence of crime and disorder is preferable to the visible evidence of police action.”(4)
Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson smartly disentangled the confusing meaning of a P value. In his piece, he explained the importance of starting with the notion of a hypothesis and described an example that most cops understand. For example, if a person is weaving in and out lanes at 0130 AM on the weekend, officers will hypothesize that the driver might be under the influence. He also shared another symbolic similarity that criminal courts and scientists both begin with similar presumptions – in both realms a threshold must be overcome in order to prove something. However, when thinking about this from a research perspective and the importance of evaluating the hypothesis with statistical significance, then the idea is enthusiastically relevant to policing. For example, one might suggest that automatic license plate readers (ALPR) lead to more arrests for auto theft. However, how do we know that unless we evaluate and test the data? This concept is essential, as Jeremiah stated in his paper, “Knowing how to interpret a statistical test of this hypothesis is essential to knowing whether organizations should continue spending time, money, and risking officers’ lives for that operation.”(3) Or in the previous example about ALPR, continue to spend money on police technology which may or may not have significant policy implications but in policing, we would never know unless a particular project or intervention was targeted, tested, and tracked.
The next concept that Jeremiah discussed, of course, is the p-value and the numeric threshold of .05. Jeremiah concisely informs the reader that in simple terms, a p-value is a measure of the probability that would not have occurred merely by chance. He used an excellent example of the game of craps and the odds of rolling a seven as compared to a 2 or 12. However, with the risk of confusing the matter and as many jurisdictions set different levels of blood alcohol content, Jeremiah stated in his paper that there is no bright line of significance. Even though most researchers set their threshold at p =.05, this is not set in stone. Just as states changed their DWI laws from .10 to .08, scientific consensus may eventually move away from p = .05
Finally, not all research is created equal, and the final point from Jeremiah’s paper is on sample sizes and research methodology. For example, Jeremiah described a concern one would have if there was a thought that someone had a loaded dice and had correctly hypothesized that the odds of continuing to roll a 7 would not occur in a series of rolls. However, this would be flawed– especially if there was a limited sample size of rolling the dice 20 times versus 150 times and evaluating the data of obtaining many more 2 or 12’s over rolling a 7 and the resultant statistical significance of reaching that threshold of 5 percent or .05 or an even higher threshold of .01. Lastly, Jeremiah discussed the importance of not relying heavily on just statistical significance but looking at such conclusions from an evidence-based policing matrix – the one created by Cynthia Lum and Chris Koper (5). Or running a randomized controlled trial (RCT) as opposed to a quasi-experimental design, or the limitation of completing an anecdotal policing project at best without any rigorous evaluation of empirical data, or worst no evaluation of any data at all. The following was quoted from Jeremiah, “As the evidencebased policymaking and evidence-based policing movements grow, there is a danger that public organizations could latch on to research that is methodologically weak or statistically flawed, but that show statistical significance.” Translational efforts play an important role by not only pushing out robust research to practitioners (e.g., the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix) but also training officers how to recognize good research and use it to their advantage.”(3)
In conclusion, it is my opinion that most police practitioners typically do not have the time, nor
interest in sifting through lengthy academic articles full of such things as regression analysis.
Ultimately, they want to know how the data makes them more effective and how it can be interpreted in context. However, we still must reframe our measurements and incentivize our outcomes. The adage what gets measured gets done rings even truer today because ultimately many police officers enjoy the autonomy of the profession, but it is my experience that they too are receptive to research with a strong desire to be effective in their crime-fighting efforts as evidence in Madison, Wisconsin.
(1) NIJ (2018). The Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science Program – A partnership between NIJ and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Retrieved from https://nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/Pages/nij-iacp-leads-program.aspx (accessed 28 Mar 2018).
(2) Nelson, C. (2018). From Research to Practice, Two Decades Later: Evidence-Based Policing in Madison, Wisconsin” Translational Criminology, 7-9.
(3) Johnson, J. (2018). P-What? A Practitioner Guide to Understanding P-Values Translational Criminology, 14-15
(4) Johnson, J. (2018). A Hippocratic Oath for policing. Police Foundation https://www.policefoundation.org/a-hippocratic-oath-for-policing/ (accessed 29 Mar 2018)
(5) Lum, C., Koper, C. S., & Telep, C. W. (2011). The evidence-based policing matrix. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 7(1), 3-26 – http://cebcp.org/evidence-based-policing/the-matrix/
01/20/18 – Josh Young, MSt. (Cantab)
Today, we find ourselves in a situation with civil strife, presidential task forces and calls for reform. Trust has been lost between police and the public. The public is no longer satisfied with police opinions as the final word. With this shift in public perception, it is time for our profession to move towards the same evidence-based practices that have galvanized the field of medicine for years. Evidence-based practices are determined by applying data and the best possible scientific research to guide policy and practice. Medicine accomplished this 150 years ago creating the American Medical Association (AMA) to combat quackery, or people espousing fake cures, calling it medicine. The AMA dedicated their organization to advancing the art and science of medicine. Similar to medicine, policing is an art, and although not a physical science, there is also a social science behind policing. Policing is, therefore, an art and a science. Doctors study doctors to advance their empirical knowledge of their profession, why aren’t cops studying cops? Just as practicing doctors created the AMA to shape their profession with scientific evidence, practicing cops established the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP) to shape the current police culture with scientific evidence.
American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP)
In the summer of 2015, the President of the Police Foundation, the oldest nationally known policing organization located in Washington DC, and several of its Police Fellows began having regular talks about the need to integrate evidence-based practices into American policing. It was decided to recruit eight working cops and a crime analyst who have research backgrounds and who have demonstrated their ability to infuse science into daily policing. Each of the founding members was specifically chosen because of their uniquely accomplished backgrounds, in-depth understanding of evidence-based practices and passion to improve American policing. This ad hoc committee was first tasked with brainstorming police problems and assessing if they were capable of creating a positive, and equally important, measurable difference in American policing. The result was the creation of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP).
The ASEBP is a non-profit organization founded on the principles that frontline police officers should be a stakeholder in the re-engineering of their profession. This re-engineering requires not only input from officers but also input from citizens, researchers, and policymakers. There is currently no national society that brings together all ranks and members of police organizations. To date, all of the major societies cater to executive management. ASEBP was established in 2015 under the umbrella of the Police Foundation in Washington DC. ASEBP is focused on the need for street cops, management, community members and researchers to take an active role in shaping the future of policing.
Currently, the media is in control influencing and shaping policy coming from the White House. Without science, we are left with opinion and experience.We see science as a solution to guiding the art of policing. The ASEBP is designed to drive the national conversation towards ensuring that the least harmful, most effective, fairest and safest research-based strategies are employed to prevent crime, reduce harm and improve community and officer wellness. At the core of ASEBP is the belief that law enforcement is a noble profession, filled with talented professionals, who are capable and ready for positive change towards evidence-based practices. Also, we believe every member of our community possesses intrinsic value regardless of their social class, race or sexual orientation.
The change we advocate calls on police departments to integrate practices which are supported by the best available research. Much like medical doctors and a myriad of other professional fields, police should have continuing educational hours based on the latest research in their field. In this forum, academics and cops can assemble to learn, research and collaborate on pioneering techniques for the purpose of promoting police tactics that improve officer and citizen safety, reduce stress, and create less societal harm. These tactics, grounded in research, will produce the most effective and safest outcomes for citizens and cops alike.
We believe police practices and management is not only enhanced by science but it is in their very nature to coalesce to form a better system of policing. Research allows for a faster feedback loop to determine which practices should be kept and which practices need to be eliminated. For instance, it was almost 20 years before the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program was evaluated and found lacking. Over 50 million dollars in taxpayers’ money has been spent on a program that does relatively little to prevent kids from using drugs. This money could have been better spent putting cops on the street, purchasing better equipment, or implementing training. Integrating an evidence-based approach to testing interventions before scaling them up nationwide would be a more cost-effective way of implementation by getting rid of useless programs before emotional attachment takes hold.
ASEBP wants to do this by bridging the gap between academics and police practitioners. Academics are often viewed negatively by cops because they do not want people who haven’t spent a day on the street telling them how to be cops. This is a misconception. Cops and academics can effectively work side by side. Cops can propose new tactics and academics can scientifically analyze the outcomes of the intervention. Academics can also evaluate the social processes that are occurring during the intervention and analyze the outcomes to give cops feedback. Feedback is integral to learning. Without a feedback loop, policing will never understand whether programs, projects or interventions are effective. ASEBP wants to dispel the myth that integrating an evidence-based policing culture and scientifically testing innovations is outside the scope of local police agencies. Police working together with academic institutions can create empirical evidence to guide practice. Although ASEBP is at the early adoption stage, we think we can get to the first great tipping point; introducing the current policing culture to evidence-based policing (EBP) and creating an in-depth understanding of what EBP is and isn’t. If we assimilate EBP into police agencies, then collaboration with academics will be seamless which can lead to the testing of various interventions to address unique problems specific to each community.
Three Pillars of ASEBP
We aim to provide knowledge about evidence-based practices to front-line officers, mid-management, senior police commanders, community members and policy makers. We are convinced that through the sharing of knowledge, we can all benefit. ASEBP plans to accomplish this by translating research from academic language into policing language and then putting it into a format that is easily digestible, short white papers, videos, or podcasts.
We advocate for the use of evidence-based practices in all aspects of policing as a way of ensuring we are serving our communities in the most efficient manner without causing harm. The research guides us on what works and what doesn’t work in policing. ASEBP will accomplish this by presenting current EBP practices to Chiefs, Sheriffs, policy makers, and citizens at relevant conferences.
We facilitate the creation and use of research in policing by acting as a conduit for both police and research professionals. For years, academics and researchers have examined policing and conducted experiments, but until recently the results have not made it to the hands of the people on the front lines. In conjunction with the Candian Society of Evidence-Based Policing, we are creating a matching application that will help academics and practitioners find each other based on the academic’s experience and the practitioner’s problem they wish to solve.
Addressing Problems and Identifying Solutions
Police research is not getting into police departments.
Every police officer receives basic police training on tactics, rules, criminal law and procedure. However, once that initial training is completed, the level of ongoing education varies from agency to agency with an over-reliance on experience and intuition. ASEBP suggests there is a better way to conduct business. By rigorously studying everything we do, we can more accurately determine what works, what doesn’t and what is promising when it comes to our core functions of preventing crime and improving community wellness.
The advancement of the policing profession comes by continuously learning and adopting best-known practices. There has never been a time in the history of American policing where our officers have ever been more educated and capable of re-engineering our profession. We believe our profession is at a tipping point and ASEBP looks to be a catalyst for positive and measurable change.
To get police research into the hands of our police officers, we need to address two points:
- Criminological studies need to be written in a digestible format for cops, and
- Police departments need to adopt EBP into the education curriculum.
There currently exists valuable research on police practices such as hotspot policing, solvability factors, and procedural justice, to name a few. Most of the evidence gathered from these studies can be generalized and replicated across law enforcement agencies to increase their efficiency and maximize their resources. Currently, however, police research is written in an academic language using advanced statistical methods that are indigestible for cops to translate and implement in their police organization. If officers read any lengthy article, it tends to be case law reviews. When academic articles run 30-40 pages, officers will not take the time to read them. This can leave police managers feeling frustrated with the idea of integrating research.
However, when EBP is taught by cops and academics who understand both the realities of daily police work and criminological research, we find ubiquitous excitement to integrate this model of policing. Officers are interested in being more effective on the street; we just haven’t been introduced to the research that shows us how. When officers are taught about the multitude of studies that exist showing what works, what doesn’t, and what looks promising in policing they get excited. It’s like reinforcing what your intuition told you all along, but now you have science to support your beliefs. In today’s policing climate, we need to start supporting our intuition with science.
We want to create a culture of curiosity.
Police are curious by nature. We like figuring out “who done it?”. We enjoy finding pieces of evidence that support our theory about “who done it.” We love getting information from the public that fits that final piece of the puzzle, creating a solid case that demonstrates what our intuition has told us all along. This is what EBP has to offer, evidence to support our opinions. It is fundamentally who we are as cops. ASEBP wants to support police intuition with science, so our profession can be viewed by the public as professional.
What if we measure success differently? What if we reward officers, not for making the most arrests, but for demonstrating the ability to prevent crime and increase public trust using evidence-based practices. This flips the reward system on its head and will drive reform starting with frontline officers who reflect the department’s image.
What ASEBP has to offer
Membership to the ASEBP is open to everyone. Whether you’re a police officer, academic or interested community member, we invite you to join. Membership costs $40.00 a year, and members will get access to the following benefits:
- An online library of articles and conference presentations.
- Discounted admission to the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing Conference.
- Translation of research into accessible formats such as video, podcasts, and one-page white papers.
- Networking with law enforcement professionals, researchers, and educators from all over the world providing opportunities to both acquire and share information.
- Access to a growing body of pracademics (practitioner/academics) that can assist with finding the research needed for your particular problem or connecting you with an expert in the field.
WE INVITE YOU TO BE A PART OF ASEBP
Officers, citizens, researchers and policy makers have a place in the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing. We hope that in the future, rather than riots and reform; policing will become a learning profession that swiftly implements new evidence into practice to improve policing outcomes and community wellness. As our membership increases, we look to increase the impact of our message and shape the future of policing. Whether you are interested in actively participating or simply believe in our message, we ask for your support. You can find us at www.AmericanSEBP.com, click on the membership button and become a member today.