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Coexistence: Evidence-Based Policing and Emerging Technologies
Valarie Findlay – Research Fellow, Police Foundation (US)
Evidence-based policing promises to be a powerful force for change and holding significant value for police organizations, the public and community safety. Often misunderstood, evidenced-based policing promotes the importance of practices based on scientific evidence that demonstrates what works ‘best’.
Plainly stated (sort of), qualitative and quantitative data is gathered from operational practices in a controlled framework that accounts for fluid environmental factors. Later, this data is analysed to fact-based evidence used to improve policies and procedures.
What evidence-based policing is not is the uncontrolled, empirical collection of data or its arbitrary use to implement or change procedural approaches and practices. Properly constructed, it does the opposite.
Allowing the integration of other research methods, such as discourse analysis, can create context where dynamic factors influence responses, such as offender interactions that may differ depending on circumstance, individual, neighborhood or city.
A linkage between research and practice, evidence-based practices hinge on the value of anecdotal and formalised evidence from measurable policing functions – from implementing guidelines to crime prevention. This nexus of controlled theory married with practice outcomes is gaining traction as it allows for faster operationalisation of academic research. From this, the best quality evidence can be used to shape ‘best practices’ through a process of re-testing and measuring the hypothesis.
Looking at both static and dynamic factors, the ones that change analogue and expected outcomes, is valuable to policing since its a human-behaviour driven profession. It’s easy to presume that under a particular scenario that under “normal” circumstances any person would react a certain way or that from the officer’s “experience” a certain outcome is presumed; this is what evidence-based policing stands to clarify.
The field of medicine is a good example. It’s widely accepted by professionals that diagnostics rely on three important areas of ‘evidence’: clinical signs, pathology and anecdotal (patient-view) since how disease presents itself physically, biologically and practically varies by individual. These diagnostic axioms produce irrefutable facts that remain relevant despite the use of technology; noting, centuries ago diagnostics were largely anecdotal and treatment was empirical.
For policing, an evidenced-based approach could look like this: a hypothesis is drawn from anecdotal evidence showing community-based policing programs deter recruitment of youth in street-level gangs. A sample group or area is selected to test the hypothesis by collecting data from practice activities by the subject matter experts (officers). Controlled by research methods that isolate criteria (demographic, circumstantial, geographic, etc) findings can be re-tested with outcomes confirmed, creating procedural or programmatic approaches.
Turning to technologies and how they could assist in evidence-based approaches, I’ll preface this by saying identify the “problem” and organisational requirements and letting those drive the selection of the technology; opposite view of how technology can be used to address all problems only serves the vendors.
Using artificial intelligence (AI) as an example – a hot topic across all sectors – may solve one of policing’s longstanding problems with the persistence of analogue data alongside electronic data and converting it into usable intelligence. AI could play a key role in addressing this problem not necessarily as an approach that automates decisions, actions and responses, but aiding in them.
Clearly, the more integrated public safety data is, whether individually identifying or statistically informing of a group or area, the more informative it is. AI can create generative processes that correlate large amounts of data, replicating ‘human’ thinking through algorithms and digitized heuristics, learning from outcomes. These predictive, adaptive responses can then be extended to similar problems making AI inherently useful to some aspects of policing.
The value to evidenced-based practices could improve data analytics across many programs – crime prevention and interdiction, investigative functions in analysis and intelligence gathering, from tip consolidation to complex field intelligence.
Despite AI’s ability to rapidly correlate and create associations with data, as with any technology, it has limitations and risks. The outputs and conclusions generated by AI processes are only as good as the input data and algorithms – it is truly a matter of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ and AI will not magically improve the quality of input data.
While ethics and privacy issues arise with AI’s ambiguous processes, for evidenced-based policing to explore its value, high-integrity algorithm, validation and verification will be key to establishing trust and confidence for all sides.
Valarie Findlay is an ASEBP Member and a research fellow for the Police Foundation (USA) with two decades of senior expertise in cyber security and policing initiatives. She has worked extensively on federal cyber initiatives and is a member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police eCrimes Cyber Council, as well as other federal cyber councils in Canada and the US. She holds a Masters in Sociology and a Masters in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews; her dissertation, “The Impact of Terrorism on the Transformation of Law Enforcement” examined the transformation of law enforcement in Western Nations.
Reporting with Confidence
Eva Ruth Moravec, Co-Founder of The Texas Justice Initiative
I love learning, and it’s my belief that it’s unhealthy for one to close off one’s mind to learning new things. Because of this passion for education, journalism – a profession that requires asking questions and understanding the answers – has always come somewhat naturally.
For years, I worked for newspapers, starting with weekly publications in downtown Austin, Oak Hill, Southwest Houston and San Antonio, and eventually landing at the daily San Antonio Express-News. At weekly newspapers, the staff is typically miniscule, and reporters are assigned to cover anything from meetings at city hall to breaking news and features on new restaurants and businesses. So I’d covered a few scenes before my first day on scanners with the Express-News, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the breaking news beat.
I arrived to my first scene – a dog bite – a little too quickly, I’d soon learn. I parked around the block, and as I rounded the corner, I heard two gunshots. The scene was chaotic, and as first responders hurriedly walked in and out of the one-story house, panicked relatives began to arrive. Around me, police officers roped off the crime scene. Inside the home, a 7-month-old had been brutally killed – “dragged around like a ragdoll” ¬– by two pit bulls when the baby’s grandmother left the room to heat a bottle.
How often did that happen? Were pit bulls inherently dangerous, or were all dogs liable to eat small children? Did these dogs show signs of aggression before? I quickly learned that law enforcement tracked these things, and that the dogs had attacked a child before. The woman was indicted for injury to a child and died of natural causes before a trial could take place. I was left wondering: How can I report in a way that helps readers, instead of just shocks and horrifies them?
It has always been important for me to infuse my reporting with context, facts, best practices and some sort of take-away for readers. It remained a priority when I covered the Texas Legislature for The Associated Press, and I watched in excitement as legislators passed a law requiring basic information to be reported on each officer-involved shooting. In a data journalism class for my Master’s degree, I started a database of information from the reports, and sought a way to report on the incidents using both the qualitative and quantitative methods I was learning about. The result was a series on officer-involved shootings that ran in three newspapers, and while I reported and took journalism classes, I also took law enforcement training courses on using force and participated in Austin’s Citizen Police Academy.
Throughout the past decade, I’ve enhanced my journalism skills with those of a budding social scientist, thanks to graduate school, and have been able to look more critically at research, policies, practices and outcomes. I have a lot more to learn, but I know that factual information has the ability to enhance trust and build understanding. These days, I work occasionally as a stringer covering breaking news for The Washington Post, but mostly focus on running my nonprofit, the Texas Justice Initiative, which is focused on increasing transparency and accountability in Texas criminal justice. I am also writing a book about the legality vs. public opinion of officer-involved shootings in Texas for the University of Texas Press. I find myself relying on experts, research and evidence-based practices for nearly everything I do, and being a member of ASEBP allows me to stay at the forefront of new law enforcement research and practices.
Eva Ruth Moravec is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting fellow, a freelance reporter and the author of a forthcoming book that explores the legality of police shootings in Texas. While in a data journalism class for her master’s at the University of Texas at Austin, Moravec started a database of officer-involved shootings in Texas. She then explored cases in her database through “Point of Impact,” an investigative journalism series that ran in three Texas daily newspapers. She has covered criminal justice in Texas for a decade, including stints at the San Antonio Express-News and The Associated Press.
Place-Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories (PIVOT) in Cincinnati, Ohio
Lieutenant Matthew Hammer, Cincinnati Police Department
In 2015, Cincinnati, Ohio saw an appreciable spike in gunshot victimization. While other cities were also experiencing a surge in shootings, the confluence of several factors in Cincinnati led to a unique response. Cincinnati had committed to problem-solving as the primary policing strategy almost fifteen years prior. As a result, institutional knowledge had developed regarding policing from an evidence base. Cincinnati’s local government had recognized shooting victimization as a top priority and previously implemented a focused-deterrence strategy, the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). CPD had also developed relationships with partner academics, including Dr. John Eck and Dr. Robin Engel from the University of Cincinnati. This partnership led to many changes in the CPD, including the Chief’s Scholars Program, an opportunity for Cincinnati Police Officers to pursue a master’s degree in Criminal Justice. I was able to earn my master’s degree through this program, which has proved invaluable in understanding evidence-based policing. This program allowed me to develop the comfort spaces concept under the mentorship of Dr.’s Eck and Engel, through a final project. This would later be integrated into the PIVOT strategy.
DEVELOPMENT OF PIVOT
In the fall of 2015, a group of academics and practitioners assembled to discuss how the problem of gunshot victimization could be better addressed in Cincinnati. Dr. Tamara Madensen (University of Nevada Las-Vegas), joined CPD Captain Maris Herold, Senior Crime Analyst Blake Christenson, and others, to craft a new policing strategy. The opportunity for improving Cincinnati’s violence reduction effort seemed to lie with a greater focus on places, to compliment offender-oriented efforts. Emerging research suggested that places had relevance for crime beyond repeat crime sites, and it seemed the police could do more to capitalize on this recognition. If a crime place network could be identified and disrupted in addition to offender network disruption, there seemed a potential for more impactful reductions in violence.
THE PIVOT OPERATION
In the spring of 2016, I was asked to help make the PIVOT strategy operational in Cincinnati. I began the process of selecting a sergeant and four sworn officers to join two crime analysts. The task appeared enormous. Starting a unit from the ground-up, for the purpose of engaging in a policing strategy that had not been done before, would challenge all of us. The strategy had already been publicly announced by the Mayor, City Manager, and Police Chief as the City’s new response to shootings. I half-joked that all we needed to find were perfect cops. We needed them to be tactically sound to patrol the most violent areas of the city, with enough investigative savvy to understand and disrupt complex criminal schemes such as white-collar and financial crimes, and with the ability to communicate and partner with the community. After all, place-based problem solving requires strong and broad partnerships – and collaboration. These officers needed this wide skill set because the problems we identified would inform the responses, and these officers needed to be prepared to execute the most appropriate response and be able to resist simply executing the most familiar ones.
The team that has joined PIVOT has absolutely lived up to those demands. Sergeant Shannon Heine has contributed a decade of investigative experience, including in Internal Investigations and Homicide. She has earned the respect of many within the Department and in the community. Officers Christopher Clarkson, Oscar Cyranek, and Don Konicki have brought a combined 37 years of police experience in Patrol, Investigations, Vice, Violent Crimes, Personal Crimes, and Financial Crimes. Each is a veteran or armed forces reservist. In addition to PIVOT duties, these officers are active in Honor Guard, Civil Disturbance Response, Marine, and Mountain Bike Patrol. The talents of Senior Crime Analyst Blake Christenson have made a tremendous impact on the overall project, and PIVOT welcomed the newest member, Samantha Elliott, to the analytic team this spring. In addition to the police team, a multi-sector group was assembled. This group meets bi-weekly to work on project sites. It includes representatives from Law, Buildings, Economic Development, Fire, Health, the Community-Police Partnering Center, and community leaders, to name only a few. The PIVOT program has collaborated with a previously separate initiative, the Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), to coordinate community development efforts with public safety efforts (see the PIVOTPOINT video documentary – CPDPIVOT.com).
This strategy has been executed in five sites across the City. Each (approximately three-block) site was selected because of extraordinarily high and sustained violence. Reflective of this, two PIVOT officers recovered six firearms in five separate investigations during one early month of operation. These officers are first to respond on many shots fired and gun calls for service, as they are routinely in the most volatile areas. (See www.CPDPIVOT.com/analytics for information on site selection.)
This strategy takes time. The first two sites were active projects for approximately eighteen months. Sites three-five have been active for more than a year. Major responses have included: working with apartment managers and business owners, restricting on-street parking, lighting interventions, placement of public safety cameras, bus stop relocation, building demolition (an apartment building, an abandoned school, and several condemned houses), clearing of overgrowth, fence installation, and several public nuisance actions including one that served as the impetus for the closure of a convenient store that re-opened as a community-based non-profit thrift store. (see www.CPDPIVOT.com/casestudies, for more information on network identification and disruption). Many more interventions have taken place, some big and others small. To understand the difference between this strategy and others requires the ability to know the devil is truly in the details.
Outcomes to date have exceeded expectations. The first site previously averaged more than a shooting per month but did not record a shooting for 470 days following the intervention. Two-hundred forty-three days have passed since there was a shooting in site two. Each of the other sites has experienced a marked decline in the frequency of shooting victimizations. Violence scores have declined across all five sites between 50-80%.
It takes time to uncover the place network and more time to craft responses that will disrupt the network. One goal has been to get enough information to truly understand the dynamics of project space. Another has been to resist expending resources on things unlikely to influence violence. A third was to recognize the critical nature of community partnership, without which there would be much less success. CPD was honored to win the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing for the PIVOT strategy. While this strategy is challenging to implement and execute, Cincinnati’s experience suggests it is an approach worth considering.
For more information about PIVOT see:
Madensen, T.D., Herold, M., Hammer, M. G., & Christenson, B. R. (2017). Place-based
investigations to disrupt crime place networks. The Police Chief, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 4.,
pages 14-15. International Association of Chiefs of Police, Virginia.