The harmful effects of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD): Why police departments should stay up to date on evidence-based practices

I attended the 2018 International Association of Chiefs of Policing Conference in Orlando, FL where I had the good fortune to sit in on a Critical Incident Peer Support session led by Dr. Bradley S. Feuer, the Chief Surgeon of the Florida Highway Patrol. I was looking forward to this class because I have read several books that mentioned there was empirical evidence to show that Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) has no effect on PTSD symptoms or may even increase PTSD symptoms, something social scientists call a backfire effect. These books piqued my curiosity about what the empirical research showed, as books will cover some of the research that supports their point of view, but not necessarily all the research in the field. I was unable to access some of the most pertinent articles, leading me to email the researchers directly and asking for the articles. I explained that CISD is often a requirement for police officers involved in a critical incident with some agencies going so far as having a general order mandating, “The involved employee’s commander/manager will ensure the Department psychologist is notified within 24 hours after the critical incident. (a) The Department psychologist will conduct a debriefing session within 72 hours of the incident. The employee’s immediate family may be included in the debriefing session.” The psychologist I spoke with, Dr. Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University, sent me several studies and a graph visually depicting that CISD has either no effect or increases PTSD symptoms. He was disappointed to hear that policing was still using CISD as an intervention when his opinion was that this method was debunked in psychology over ten years ago. By not staying up to date on current research, police agencies are potentially causing harm to their employees by endorsing an intervention that has been shown to either be ineffective or harmful to participants and potentially exposing the city to legal liability by using CISM/CISD interventions.

I attended Dr. Feuer’s session because I wanted to know if he was reading what I was reading, that there is overwhelming research that supports the discontinuation of CISM/CISD as a therapeutic intervention for individuals involved in a critical incident. That was exactly what his session was about; showing how the development of CISM/CISD was created and almost entirely supported by research from the founder of the program and/or affiliates of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (ICISF) and that studies done by unbiased researchers demonstrated no efficacy of the intervention. The best article I read that reviews CISM/CISD was written by McNally, Bryant, and Ehlers (2003) Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from posttraumatic stress, where they not only review the extant literature but analyze Jeffrey Mitchell’s (the co-creator of CISM/CISD with Dr. George Everly) arguments refuting the research that does not support CISM/CISD. McNally et al. (2003) demonstrate that Mitchell consistently contradicts his earlier arguments using the same factors when arguing unsupportive research is ‘invalid,’ as when he argues the research is ‘valid’ when it supports CISD. Even the CISM primer on the ICISF website refutes the research that shows CISD is ineffective and/or harmful where seven of the nine articles cited are written by Mitchell or Everly.

What is Critical Incident Stress Management/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing?

For those who have not heard of CISM/CISD, it is an intervention where a trained therapist (usually trained through ICISF) conducts a debriefing session either individually or with a group of individuals who have experienced a critical incident. Mitchell now advocates for CISM/CISD to be performed in groups. The debrief has seven components as described by McNally et al. (2003): 1. explanation of the debriefing process, 2. fact gathering (what happened during the critical incident), 3. thought phase (participants describe cognitive reaction to the event) 4. reaction phase (expressing their feelings about the event), 5. symptom phase (asking what psychological or physical reactions they are experiencing), 6. teaching phase (demonstrating that stress reactions are normal), and 7. reentry phase (facilitators’ attempts to attain closure). According to the ICISF website “CISM is a comprehensive, integrative, multicomponent crisis intervention system” also consisting of seven steps: 1. pre-crisis preparation, this includes stress management education, stress resistance, and crisis mitigation training for both individuals and organizations. 2. disaster or large-scale incident, as well as, school and community support programs including demobilizations, informational briefings, “town meetings” and staff advisement, 3. defusing, this is a 3-phase, structured small group discussion provided within hours of a crisis for purposes of assessment, triaging, and acute symptom mitigation, 4. Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), 5. one-on-one crisis intervention/counseling or psychological support throughout the full range of the crisis spectrum, 6. family crisis intervention, as well as, organizational consultation, and 7. follow-up and referral mechanisms for assessment and treatment, if necessary (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. Primer, 2018). CISM is a comprehensive program starting before the crisis begins, including community and family, where CISD is a onetime debriefing for the individuals directly involved in the critical incident.

What does the research show about CISM/CISD?

Barlow (2003) and Lilienfeld (2007) have written about psychological interventions that have backfire effects and both specifically mention CISD as a psychological intervention that has increased the participants PTSD symptoms. Hobbs, Mayou, Harrison, and Warlock (1996) conducted a randomized controlled trial on victims of road traffic accidents. The victims were randomly assigned to either a single debriefing session or an assessment-only control condition. The debriefing occurred between 24 and 48 hours after the incident. At a four-month assessment, neither group experienced a reduction in symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression. However, the debriefing group experienced worse scores on two areas in the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). The BSI is a questionnaire concerning symptoms of emotional distress. The research team then did a three-year follow-up with both groups and found that relative to the control group, the debriefing group had significantly more PTSD symptoms (Mayou, Ehlers, & Hobbs, 2000). Further, they found the individuals who had initially scored high for PTSD symptoms and were debriefed remained highly symptomatic compared to individuals who also had high PTSD scores but were only assessed. The hypothesis was that debriefing interferes with the natural recovery of PTSD. This is just one example of one study.

What if research articles find different outcomes?

I was once asked by an officer, “What do you do when one research article demonstrates a positive outcome and another study examining the same intervention demonstrates a negative outcome?” One way of deciding is to look at where the studies land on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (Farrington, Gottfredson, Sherman, & Welsh, 2002). I do not want to get off on a tangent explaining how to evaluate the quality of a research article, so the best way of determining the overall impact of an intervention is to find a systematic review or meta-analysis which takes all of the high-quality research in the field and examines the quality of the research, the effect size (how large of a finding discovered from the study) and statistically examines the outcomes to determine the overall effects. Rather than trying to make a decision from reading 10-20 studies, a meta-analysis or systematic review gives an objective review of those research articles to date. A meta-analysis article will explain what studies the authors have included and excluded, how they completed their search of databases, what databases they searched, and how they performed their statistical analysis. The process by which the authors come to their conclusions will also be clearly laid out in the methods section.

Examining the totality of CISD research: What does the meta-analysis show?

Two meta-analyses have been done on CISD and psychological debriefing. This first meta-analysis examined seven studies, five studies specifically evaluated CISM and three non-CISD studies interventions, and six no-intervention controls (van Emmerik, Kamphuis, Hulsbosch, & Emmelkamp, 2002). The studies chosen for the analysis were those that evaluated single session debriefings within one month after the trauma where symptoms were assessed with accepted psychological measures, and the psychological assessments were performed before (pre-test) and after (post-test) the intervention. The overall finding was that CISD and non-CISD interventions do not improve natural recovery from psychological trauma (van Emmerik et al., 2002). The second meta-analysis examined eleven studies at either a level 4 or 5 of the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale, meaning either a randomized control trial (the gold standard of research) or a quasi-randomized trial of individuals who received a single debriefing session within one month of the traumatic incident (Rose, Bisson, & Wessley, 2002). This review was a Cochrane Review. Cochrane is “internationally recognized as the benchmark for high-quality information about the effectiveness of healthcare” (Cochrane About Us, 2018). Cochrane does not accept commercial or conflicted funding, their level of research is the highest in the world, and the researchers conducting a review for Cochrane must perform the analysis following a strict protocol. In sum, Cochrane reviews are the best empirical evidence on any healthcare intervention in the world. The Cochrane review Rose et al. (2002) stated:

“This review concerns the efficacy of single session psychological “debriefing” in reducing psychological distress and preventing the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after traumatic events. Psychological debriefing is either equivalent to, or worse than, control or educational interventions in preventing or reducing the severity of PTSD, depression, anxiety and general psychological morbidity. There is some suggestion that it may increase the risk of PTSD and depression. The routine use of single session debriefing given to non-selected trauma victims is not supported. No evidence has been found that this procedure is effective.

In this review, Rose et al. (2002) discussed the fact that debriefing may ‘medicalise’ normal PTSD symptoms, meaning that avoidance and disassociation with little affect are a natural occurrence after a critical incident and may be a healthy protective reaction to a critical incident. CISD/CISM forces an individual to talk about or face the incident before they are psychologically ready. This is apparent in individuals where the incident resulted in elevated PTSD symptoms initially and when involved in debriefing sessions, those individuals were worse off four months later than individuals who were allowed to process the event naturally (Mayou et al., 2000).

CISM/CISD is ineffective and can be harmful

There is little evidence, other than supplied by the creators of CISM/CISD and ICISF, that CISM/CISD is an effective intervention for individuals involved in critical incidents to prevent symptoms of PTSD. Studies have been conducted on police officers (Carlier, Voerman, & Gersons, 2000; Carlier, Lamberts, van Ulchelen & Gersons, 1998) and firefighters (Harris, Balolu, & Stacks, 2002; Harris & Stacks, 1998) where both the firefighters and police officers were worse off than the control group. The evidence has piled up and demonstrated that at best CISM/CISD is ineffective and at worst, it leaves our employees worse off than if we would have just left them alone. This research has led several top agencies in the world to recommend the discontinued use of CISM/CISD as an intervention for individuals involved in critical incidents.

            During his talk, Dr. Feuer listed out all the international entities who have issued statements discontinued using CISM/CISD as an intervention. This list was laid out in Bledsoe (2003): The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the British Health Service, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Australasian Critical Incident Stress Association, and the British Navy. Yet, policing across the United States still engages in this intervention and hails it as a ‘best practice.’ ‘Best practice’ in policing usually means that there are enough agencies engaging in the practice and in agreement that the practice is useful. ‘Best practice’ is typically founded upon nothing other than collective opinion, rather than research and science. This experience is what DiMaggio and Powell (1983) explained when they paraphrased Schelling (1978:4) to describe organizations in a structured field such as policing, “respond to an environment that consists of other organizations responding to their environment, which consists of organizations responding to an environment of organizations’ responses.”

            We have been replicating these same types of mistakes with programs like Scared Straight, D.A.R.E, and now CISM/CISD. Police organizations have a history of adopting social interventions without testing them. It took policing 20 years before a properly led randomized controlled trial showed Scared Straight increased the likelihood of offending rather than reduced it. If we do not follow the evidence-base, we can potentially be making people worse off than they would have been had we left them alone. This is part of the reason for the creation of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing; to advocate, educate, and facilitate the use of quality research in policing. ASEBP strives to educate the police profession on up-to-date research to prevent the use of outdated practices. Policing has a responsibility to both the community and its employees to be cognizant of emerging research and alter policies and practices that do not align with the research base. I believe, as does Dr. Feuer and a myriad of other respected organizations, that this is the case for CISM/CISD interventions. Other international agencies have already discontinued this practice, and I believe policing should take the same stance and discontinue the use of CISM/CISD as a therapeutic intervention for individuals involved in a critical incident.

Where do we go from here?

            CISM/CISD forces individuals to discuss a critical incident during a period when they may not be psychologically ready. They may not feel comfortable talking about the incident in front of other people. They may find other ways to deal with negative emotions such as exercise, journaling, prayer, mediation, or just talking with a spouse, coworker, or close friend about the incident. People are resilient and there is evidence that people naturally recover on their own without a prescribed intervention (Pennebaker & Harber, 1993). Conventional wisdom would argue that people who bottle up their emotions will be worse off than people who talk about their feelings and release emotions. Research supports this part of conventional wisdom with Pennebaker & Beall (1986), demonstrating that journaling about an “upsetting personal event” has positive long-term benefits on an individual’s health. It appears it is not the releasing the emotion, it is when and how the emotion is released. We also do not want to leave officers with no social support, as lack of perceived social support is linked to increased risk of PTSD (Brewin, Andrews, & Valentine, 2000). Practical help rather than psychological help improve PTSD symptoms after a critical incident and can be considered “psychological first aid” (Litz et al., 2002; Raphael et al., 1996).

            Dr. Feuer’s talk gave a nice break down of the list of psychological first aid components that is listed out in McNally et al. (2003, p.67): listening, conveying compassion, assessing needs, ensuring that basic physical needs are met, not forcing someone to talk, providing or mobilizing company from family or significant others, encouraging but not forcing, social support, giving information, protecting from additional harm, ventilation of feelings as appropriate for the individual, and when appropriate, refer to mental health specialist. What I have seen repeatedly mentioned across the majority of studies is that if a person shows increased signs of PTSD, then refer to a mental health specialist. Intervening before a person shows signs of PTSD is ineffective and, in some cases, damaging. Dr. Feuer broke the idea down into simpler components for his Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS) program – Listen, Protect, and Connect. Peer support volunteers receive training on psychological first aid. The training is free and online provided by several different agencies: Behavioral Health Professionals, American Red Cross, World Health Organization, and the US Department of Health and Human Services. In summary, Dr. Feuer’s Critical Incident Peer Support teams provide peer support (listening and comforting), normalize reactions (information), DO NOT provide referrals to debriefing, no mandatory interventions by the team, are trained to appreciate individual coping styles, and will refer officers to a competent mental health specialist if they are showing a negative reaction to the critical incident.

            At the end of his talk, I asked if Dr. Feuer had conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on his method. He stated that he had not. He explained that the program was evidence-informed and he was working with academic researchers to first establish the efficacy of the training and planned on conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in the future to determine if individuals receiving CIPS were better or worse off after receiving the intervention. According to the Society of Prevention Research, the cycle of research should be: 1. Conducting research to understand the predictors of problem and positive developmental outcomes and understanding the epidemiology and natural history of the problem, 2. Developing interventions to motivate changes in individuals and environments, based on theories of behavior and our understanding or mechanisms for behavior change, 3. Testing the efficacy of these preventive interventions, and 4. Testing the effectiveness of efficacious interventions in contexts under realistic delivery conditions (Biglan, Domitrovich, Ernst, Etz, Mason, & Robertson). Dr. Feuer’s program is at step three, and once he demonstrates efficacy, then he will be proceeding to step four, demonstrating CIPS is effective at reducing PTSD outcomes.

Why policing needs evidence-based information?

            The psychology field has known for over ten years that CISM/CISD is an ineffective intervention for PTSD symptoms and may be potentially harmful. When I spoke with Dr. Lilienfeld, he expressed dismay that policing was uninformed about the lack of empirical support for CISM/CISD. This quote was from 2003, “Although psychological debriefing is widely used throughout the world to prevent PTSD, there is no convincing evidence that it does so. RCTs of individualized debriefing and comparative, nonrandomized studies of group debriefing have failed to confirm the method’s efficacy. Some evidence suggests that it may impede natural recovery. For scientific and ethical reasons, professionals should cease compulsory debriefing of trauma-exposed people” (McNally et al., 2003 p. 72) And this is not the first time that policing practice fell behind current research. Scared Straight was commonly practiced before it was tested in a randomized controlled trial 20 years later (McCord, 2003). McCord stated in her seminal paper, Cures that Harm, “Social programs deserve to be treated as serious attempts at intervention with possible toxic effects, so that a science of intervention can prosper” (p.17). Although good intentions are behind our social interventions, good intentions do not equal positive outcomes. We have an ethical duty to our public and our officers to be up to date on empirical research concerning our interventions (Mitchell & Lewis, 2017) and when creating a new program such as CISP, to rigorously evaluate the program at the highest research standard possible in order to understand the impacts our interventions have on the individuals involved. To do otherwise fails to protect and serve.


Barlow, B. (2010). Negative effects from psychological treatments: A perspective. American psychologist65(1), 13.

Biglan, A., Domitrovich, C., Ernst, J., Etz, K., Mason, M. J., & Robertson, E. (2011). Standards of knowledge for the science of prevention. Fairfax, VA: Society for Prevention Research.

Bledsoe, B.X. (December, 2003) EMS Myth #3: Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is effective in managing EMS-related stress. Retrieved from

Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2000). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology68(5), 748.

Carlier, I.V.E., Lamberts, R.D., van Uchelen, A.J., & Gersons, B.P.R. (1998). Disaster-related post-traumatic stress in police officers: A field study of the impact of debriefing. Stress Medicine14, 143–148.

Carlier, I.V.E., Voerman, A.E., & Gersons, B.P.R. (2000). The influence of occupational debriefing on post-traumatic stress symptomatology in traumatized police officers. British Journal of Medical Psychology73, 87–98.

Cochrane About Us, (n.d.) In Cochrane. Retrieved from

DiMaggio, P. J., & W. W. Powell (1983). The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review. la, 147-160.

Farrington, David P., Denise C. Gottfredson, Lawrence W. Sherman, and Brandon C. Welsh. “The Maryland scientific methods scale.” Evidence-based crime prevention(2002): 13-21.

Harris, M. B., & Stacks, J. R. (1998). A Three Year Five State Study on the Relationships Between Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, Firefighters’ Disposition, and Stress Reactions. Texas A & M University.

Harris, M. B., Baloğlu, M., & Stacks, J. R. (2002). Mental health of trauma-exposed firefighters and critical incident stress debriefing. Journal of Loss &Trauma7(3), 223-238.

Hobbs, M., Mayou, R., Harrison, B., & Worlock, P. (1996). A randomised controlled

trial of psychological debriefing for victims of road traffic accidents. British Medical Journal313, 1438–1439.

A Primer on International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (n.d.) In International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from

Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on psychological science2(1), 53-70.

Litz, B. T., Gray, M. J., Bryant, R. A., & Adler, A. B. (2002). Early intervention for trauma: Current status and future directions. Clinical psychology: science and practice9(2), 112-134.

Mayou, R.A., Ehlers, A., & Hobbs, M. (2000). Psychological debriefing for road traffic accidents: Three-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry176, 589–593.

McCord, J. (2003). Cures that harm: Unanticipated outcomes of crime prevention programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science587(1), 16-30.

Mitchell, R. J., & Lewis, S. (2017). Intention is not method, belief is not evidence, rank is not proof: Ethical policing needs evidence-based decision making. International Journal of Emergency Services6(3), 188-199.

McNally, R. J., Bryant, R. A., & Ehlers, A. (2003). Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from posttraumatic stress?. Psychological science in the public interest4(2), 45-79.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of abnormal psychology95(3), 274.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Harber, K. D. (1993). A social stage model of collective coping: The Loma Prieta earthquake and the Persian Gulf War. Journal of Social Issues49(4), 125-145.

Raphael, B., Wilson, J., Meldrum, L., & McFarlane, A.C. (1996). Acute preventative interventions. In B.A. van der Kolk, A.C. McFarlane, & L. Weisath (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 463–479). New York: Guilford Press.

Rose, S., Bisson, J., Churchill, R., & Wessely, S. (2002). Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev2(2).

Schelling, T. (1978). Micromotives and Macrobehavior. New York: W.W. Norton.

Van Emmerik, A. A., Kamphuis, J. H., Hulsbosch, A. M., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2002). Single session debriefing after psychological trauma: a meta-analysis. The Lancet360(9335), 766-771.

Well-Being and the Police Profession

I feel very privileged to be asked to write for the American Society. Having attended a couple of conferences in the States, and visited numerous PD’s I feel at least a little confident to have enough knowledge to give a view. Although ‘snapshots’ are not always helpful, with the right lens they can be incredibly insightful. What I can offer is to draw on 30 years of service as a UK cop, and a lifetime of caring, understanding, and experiencing life as a professional uniformed serviceman.

To provide some context, I now work for the College of Policing in the UK, as the lead for Wellbeing. Wellness, as I know you refer to it, is top of the agenda in the UK in many aspects of working life, not just policing. I am, however, focussed on the policing aspects and all that good officer (and civilian police department staff) wellness can bring to a community. I say community because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of us getting this right. Tired, bored, disgruntled, low-paid, and demoralised cops are not going to offer much of themselves; that is simple. What is slightly more complex, and often contentious, is how we battle against these psychologies. My work at the College is focussed on just that area.

If I begin with the elephant in the room. I have been astounded by the length of hours the US patrol officers work. Wherever I go with this debate, I find myself returning to what appears to be an engrained culture of non-stop work. I must say that I have seen no boundaries (in the US), with seemingly open-ended acceptance of the status quo. Simply put, this cannot be good for you. If you try to search any scholarly database for academic literature that makes a claim for a 70hrs + a week working schedule, I think you may find zero return? So, that said, how do you replace the extra dollars all these hours give you? That is the dilemma! What I can say is that this approach is gradually creeping into the UK police psyche also. But, as you may be aware, extra employ is not the norm in the UK police service, so this is largely achieved within the respected force areas. It being brought about by the simple equation that increasing workload and decreasing officer numbers results in only one thing. There is more than likely a mathematical equation model for this, but that is not my field so I won’t prospect! The outcome, however, is that we have overstretched cops trying to deliver a service designed for a considerably bigger workforce.

Having set the scene, we must now move on to looking at what we do about all of this, where can we make inroads to make life better for our people? Of course, I am going to propose that much of this can be improved by having better wellness interventions. I have always summarised three critical aspects, those being good effective leadership, a focus on personal resilience; and finally ensuring, as much as possible, that the working environment is such that we can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. That is, after all what we came to do, as they say! Policing, is at the very least, a vocation. Many see it as a calling and I have written about this also. I will pop some references at the end of the piece if you wish to read more about any of these aspects in further depth. However, I should give you a little insight into my thinking on these three areas.

First of all is the age-old issue of leadership. A Google search will leave you no better off I feel, but let me say this: for me, leadership is knowing enough about the people you lead to be able to spot when things are not right, seeing when your people are struggling, and have the knowledge, skills and ability to intervene both quickly and effectively. Simply put, it is about knowing yourself and how other people see you, knowing your staff, the people who work for you, and knowing your stuff, being operationally competent. All the other leadership skills can fall out of these three principle areas. My friend Terry Anderson has a superb book out called Every Officer Is A Leader, which is a digest of all you need to know about leadership within the context of policing.

The second area is personal resilience, which can be learned. The seminal work on this is by Southwick and Charnley, who developed a Resilience Prescription. Well worth a read if you get chance. This talks about Thinking Errors and concepts such as Bouncebackability, which suggests that we can consume trauma and hurt if we have enough in the tank. But be careful, everyone has a limit and I refer back to my leadership assertions that it is about others helping you along the way and spotting when you may be struggling.

My final area is that of creating the right working environment. Here I am talking about a multitude of things, from systems thinking to working relationships and engagement. To put simply I am suggesting we create a working environment in which officers can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. In essence this is why we all joined the police department isn’t it? If you take, for example the Engage for Success report, or Thriving at Work recently released in the UK, these points are well made out.

I will finish up by inviting you along to an IACP session on Psychological Risk Management I am doing in February 2019 in San Antonio, TX where I will speak about the journey of our UK Wellness program, which we call Oscar Kilo (OK). I will attempt, along with my colleague Andy Rhodes, the Chief with the unenviable task of landing all of this in the UK, about our journey from conception, gestation, and birth of the UK police Wellbeing Service. I will of course be tweeting about this, so you can follow that also if you wish.

I hope you have found this short blog interesting, and if you wish to read any of my work in more detail please find some references below. I will sign off by saying enjoy your time, in whatever capacity it may be, involved with this great occupation of policing and be careful out there!



Dr Ian Hesketh

Wellbeing Lead

College of Policing
Leamington Road


Coventry UK

+44 (0) 7889 704370


Oscar Kilo Website



Managing Health and Wellbeing in the Public Sector: A Guide to Best Practice


Wellbeing at Work: How to Design, Implement and Evaluate an Effective Strategy

View of Education and Research for 21st Century Policing: Collaboration, Competition and Collusion

Canteen Culture: The Potential to use Social Media as Evidence in Policing

Measuring the People Fleet: General Analysis, Interventions and Needs

Wellbeing and Engagement in Policing: The Key to Unlocking Discretionary Effort? 

Leaveism at Work

Wellbeing, Austerity and Policing: Is it Worth Investing in Resilience Training?

Leaveism and Public Sector Reform: Will the Practice Continue?





Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in Policing

As the FTO coordinator of my former agency, I had the unfortunate responsibility of terminating employees who failed field training. I remember one instance where a very bright officer seriously struggled with all areas of human interactions and was eventually let go. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do during my career.


His shortcoming? He was a human robot with his interactions with victims, suspects, and coworkers. His machine-like behavior confused and often angered those who came in contact with him. More than once he heard, “why you clowning me man?” from suspects who believed his questioning style lacked respect.


When we conducted counseling sessions with him regarding his catatonic behavior, he kept asking where in the policy manual he was failing. He had a valid point; we didn’t have a policy about how to empathically listen to a victim. We didn’t have a policy on intelligently questioning a street wise criminal. We didn’t have Emotional Intelligence (EQ) training.


EQ has many definitions and includes the following common elements; understanding and controlling personal emotions and recognizing and influencing the emotions of others (Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, Goleman). Seems pretty basic but can be hard to implement on the streets, and in the interactions law enforcement leaders have with subordinates.


We are in the people business as law enforcement professionals. In today’s climate, police officers are being watched more than ever before in their interactions with the public. Police officers are held to a higher standard for a reason; policing is about EQ more than it is about tactical, policy and procedural knowledge.


Here are some examples where I’ve seen EQ in action;


  • Recent protest by anti-police elements where the officers were called every name in the book and still kept their composure.
  • Patrol officers replaced the bedding of a young child molestation victim who was upset her favorite cartoon character bedding needed to be booked as evidence. They purchased the same character bedding with their own funds.
  • An astute 9-1-1 dispatcher received a cryptic call about ordering a pizza. Instead of dismissing the caller as a prankster, he parlayed the “pizza order” into an actual call for domestic violence.
  • A sergeant observed an underperforming, yet very capable employee, spirally out of control. She did what every good supervisor should do; she set up a meeting between the two. The sergeant provided a few examples of the observed poor performance, and then simply asked, “What’s going on, this isn’t like you?” The tears flowed as a very personal and painful situation was conveyed to the sergeant.


Being the positive person that I am, I chose a few examples that highlight the benefits of EQ in action in policing. However, a quick internet search provides more examples of law enforcement professionals letting their emotions get the best of them. Their actions, usually caught on cell phone cameras, body worn cameras, or recorded 9-1-1 lines not only caused their own career demise, but diminished the community trust.


There is very little research on EQ in policing. Although there aren’t enough studies showing the benefits of EQ in the policing profession, there are many examples showing the benefits of emotional intelligence training across other professions. Studies on emotional intelligence show how vital it is to individual as well as organizational success. A study by Parke, Seo, and Sherf (2015) show employees can be trained to increase their EQ when working in difficult work environments, by regulating their emotions.


A cross sectional study at AT&T discovered employees high in EQ accounted for nearly 60% of job performance (Bradberry). Boyatzis, et al, examined the EQ levels of partners at a multinational consulting firm, and found partners high in EQ were responsible for $1.2 million more in profit than low EQ partners (which equated to a 139% gain in profit).


Examples like the one I just mentioned are simply a fraction of the different success stories companies have made by making EQ training a premium. From the prism of evidence-based policing, this level of training has the potential to be extremely beneficial for law enforcement organizations looking to make inroads in establishing trust with their communities. If we’re going to use an evidence-based approach to increase the legitimacy between the police and the public, EQ training must be mandatory in the process.


Can a person improve their EQ level? The answer is yes! While IQ is pretty much a fixed competency, EQ is flexible and can be improved (Chamorro-Premuzic, et al). There are several emotional intelligence assessments and training programs in the public space for agencies to utilize. EQ training should start at the academy and continue throughout an employee’s career.


About Dr. Goold

Dr. Michael Goold retired after 23 years of law enforcement service with the last three years a Chief of Police. He coaches individuals and agencies on emotional intelligence. In his spare time Michael competes in marathons, triathlons, and the Police Unity Tour.  Dr. Goold can be reached at



Emotional Intelligence Assessment Links

The Curfew Myth How a ‘90s panic spawned an anti-crime measure that doesn’t make you safer.

It’s a summer ritual in many American cities—declaring a juvenile curfew to keep troublemaking teenagers off the streets. This summer at least one city—Austin—has decided not to sound the alarm.

“We looked at the evidence and decided it was time to discard the curfew law,” the Austin Police Department’s assistant chief, Troy Gay, told The Marshall Project. “It wasn’t making an impact on juvenile victimization.” The evidence was a report drafted by a consortium of community groups that banded together to challenge Austin’s curfew law in 2017. Police Chief Brian Manley was persuaded and asked the City Council to rescind the law.

Juvenile curfew laws are ubiquitous and deeply entrenched. By 2009, 84% of cities with populations greater than 180,000 had enacted curfew laws. They remain an alarmist staple in communities across the country.

A voluminous body of research has cast strong doubts on the claims that juvenile curfew laws prevent victimization or reduce juvenile crime, but these findings have received scant attention from policymakers or police.

A systematic review of research literature on juvenile curfew programs was published in 2016 by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit that synthesizes research studies for policy-makers. Campbell examined over 7,000 studies on juvenile curfews and synthesized the 12 most rigorous studies.

As the report stated, “evidence suggests that juvenile curfews are ineffective at reducing crime and victimization. The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime — and close to zero for crime during all hours. Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.”

Why are juvenile curfew laws ineffective? The studies found that they damage already-strained relationships between police and youth of color and in some instances have “blowback” effects, increasing juvenile victimization or overall crime.

Another factor is that on empty streets there are no witnesses. Urban activist Jane Jacobs theorized that well-populated streets are safe streets; deserted streets invite crime.

A study published in 2015 tested the effect of Washington D.C.’s juvenile curfew on gun violence. Using ShotSpotter audio sensor data, the authors found that gunfire incidents were significantly more frequent when the curfew was in effect.

Many argue that continuing curfew laws in the name of juvenile crime reduction is draconian, in light of actual crime data showing juvenile crime rates are at all-time lows.

Dr. Mike Males, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Research told TMP that crime rates are lower for juveniles than for adults in their 40s or 50s.

The use of juvenile curfew laws soared in the mid-1990s at the urging of the Clinton administration. The “tough-on-juvenile crime” stance was a product of Princeton Professor John DiIulio’s “super-predator” theory; in 1995, he warned that unless decisive action was taken, the next 10 years may “unleash an army of young male predatory street criminals.”

The result was an abrupt shift in laws, encouraging prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults and urging municipalities to enforce curfews.

It turned out the super-predator theory was terribly wrong. Juvenile crime in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s soared, fueled by the crack epidemic and, perhaps, the effects of lead poisoning on inner-city children, but then dropped precipitously. DiIulio’s army of  “homicidal juveniles” never materialized.

Juvenile justice advocates and community groups have been working tirelessly to reverse “tough-on-juveniles” policies created in response to the prophesized super-predators. They have made some headway in reducing juvenile incarceration rates, with DiIulio himself signing an amicus brief in 2012, petitioning to end life sentences for juveniles.

The same can’t be said for curfew laws.

Males contends that police and politicians continue using curfew laws because “juveniles are a politically powerless population, so they are an easy group to target and blame for any crime concerns in an area.”

Since the rescission of Austin’s juvenile crime law, juvenile victimization has decreased by 12 percent, officials say. Though it may be too soon to draw conclusions, Gay says Austin’s “youth aren’t hiding from the police anymore, in places they weren’t supposed to be. Now they can be in a public place and not fear the police, and maybe that makes everyone safer.”


Ivonne Roman, a captain in the Newark (N.J.) Police Department and board member of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing wrote this article while working as a journalism intern at The Marshall Project.


The Role of Theory in Evidence-Based Policing

September 10, 2018


by Joel M. Caplan, PhD

Associate Professor, Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice

Deputy Director, Rutgers Center on Public Security


Theory is to evidence-based policing (EBP) as water is to shoreline. They help define each other. Theories shape evidence-based practices, and newly tested practices help to advance theories. A spectrum of theories from criminology, ecology, psychology, geography, sociology and economics, are commonly used to craft research, experiments, and data analyses for police agencies; and policing initiatives are routinely helping to validate and advance theories. Theories are ‘translational’ in that they’re renderings of scientific discoveries synthesized into sets of expectations about phenomena that police can consider for policies or practices. According to psychologists Tversky and Kahneman, the job of decision makers is not always to be right, but to figure out the odds in any decision they have to make and play the odds well[1]. Theory guides these decisions.


A theory is a supposition or a set of ideas intended to explain something. Theories arise from repeated and independent testing of hypotheses, in different settings, over time, whereby sets of principles emerge when similar research findings appear. Theories are testable, and may be proven wrong. But a theory is distinct from a hypothesis. Theory is derived from numerous sources of evidence and academic study. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. In the realm of policing, if a theory is ‘clear and convincing evidence’, then a hypothesis is ‘reasonable suspicion’.


For EBP:

  • Theory safeguards against arbitrary decision-making.
  • Theory offers guidance about which variables to include or control for in analyses, and how to make results actionable.
  • Theory enhances accountability and helps share the burden of crime prevention among multiple agencies and stakeholders.
  • Theory adds context and meaning to data and helps to answer why and in what situations results matter.
  • Theory can guide the coordination of multiple intervention programs at once, and help to anticipate unwanted side effects.
  • Theory helps explain human behavior and, thus, crime events and patterns.
  • Theory guides innovative and creative solutions to problems.


Big data and sophisticated technologies do not guarantee easier or more certain decisions for police. With a growing reliance on fusion centers, real-time crime centers, and software to manage, analyze and communicate data, there’s a danger of thinking that numbers will speak for themselves[2]. The opposite is true. Theory plays a crucial role in decisions about what datasets or variables to include in statistical analyses, how they might interact, what could confound, mediate or moderate results, what the results mean, and so on[3]. Without a theoretical framework, analysts can be distracted from critical decisions they must make[4]. According to Wise and Shaffer[5] theory is a tool to safeguard against arbitrary decision-making “by providing a coherent and reasoned framework” from which to act. Theory enables actionable results.


Policing has witnessed the consequences of poorly woven analysis, theory, and responsive actions. Notable examples include activities performed at crime hot spots that are solely offender-focused and, thus, disconnected with the ecological theories and spatial analyses that informed the place-based deployments. Although hot spots policing is sometimes coupled with Broken Windows Theory, the operational practices often implemented for crime prevention (such as stop, question, frisk) are detached from the root spatial causes, attractors, or generators of illegal behaviors (e.g., the actual broken windows) and instead focus reactively on offenders (i.e., without fixing the actual broken windows). A result is that hot spots persist and appear resilient over time, despite the many foot patrols, arrests or citations utilized there. As was recently questioned in The New Yorker “What if vacant property received the attention that, for decades, has been showered on petty crime?” Police can use theory to engage non-police stakeholders and justify sharing the burden of crime prevention with coordinated activities at the most vulnerable places.


Police who ask ‘where’ should also ask ‘why’. Theory provides a framework for explaining results, and for elucidating why and in what contexts the results matter[6]. Theory can help police prescribe responses to existing crime problems or emerging threats, and also to understand the impacts that their presence at targeted areas will have on risk calculations of people located nearby. Routine Activities, Rational Choice and Deterrence theories might come to mind. But so could Crime Pattern Theory or the Theory of Risky Places because the police are integral features of the environmental backcloths they patrol. Their movements add to its spatial dynamics, with varying levels of guardianship and vulnerability throughout the jurisdiction at any given moment in time. In fact, frequent directed patrols at particular target areas may inadvertently become expected or predictable qualities of spaces that motivated offenders adapt to[7] [8] if theory is not used to inform matters of timing, frequency and saturation.


EBP needs ongoing, continued impact. It could prosper from theoretically informed adoptions of newly proven practices that are phased in and out at the right times to optimize their crime prevention benefits with sustained impacts. Theory can guide the coordination and complementarity of multiple intervention programs at once, and serve as a barometer for balancing variety, intensity and timing of crime prevention programing.


Crime is an outcome of behavior. Theories help explain human behavior. A meta-analysis[9] of 11 intervention programs reported that decreases in crime relate not only to the offender-centric strategies but also to steps taken to modify the environments in which they operate. This finding complements criminological and psychological theories that reveal how environments influence behavior[10]. For example, environmental psychology[11] suggests that situationally-induced emotions can provoke a criminal response among both rational or irrational people. If people commit illegal behavior enough in the same setting, the physical environment (itself) can shape the subsequent human behavior (even unconsciously)[12]. The Theory of Risky Places (TRP) offers a way of modeling crime-prone settings for situational crime prevention. It assists in recognizing patterns of crime attractors that appear in the landscape, accounting for spatial relationships of environmental features that change over time. Police departments such as in Atlantic City have operationalized TRP to activities aimed at disrupting key ‘crime risk narratives’ through planned changes to the environment, including strategically allocated vehicle, bicycle and foot patrols. Violent crimes decreased 36% and the benefits have been sustained for well over 18 months to-date[13].


EBP isn’t merely about ingesting published research. It’s more than just methods and results. It’s about police agencies challenging themselves to turn theories into practice and then measure outcomes. Theoretical frameworks inform thinking behind new or innovative trials, the decisions that are made during a tour of duty, and how translations of empirical research provide new directions for operational practices[14]. Marcia Finlayson[15] summarized it well: “Theory defines and sets parameters on the way we think, what we focus on, and how we interpret what we see.”


Theories offer a check on our assumptions or preconceived notions. They shape evidence-based practices, and vice-versa. Theories help to move policing forward.


[1] Lewis, M. (2016). The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds. W. W. Norton & Company: NYC, p248

[2] Wise, A. F. and Shaffer, D. W. (2015). Why theory matters more than ever in the age of big data. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(2), 5-13.

[3] Wise & Shaffer, 2015

[4] Wise & Shaffer, 2015; Leek, J. T., & Peng, R. D. (2015). Statistics: p values are just the tip of the iceberg. Nature, 520, 612.

[5]  Wise & Shaffer, 2015, p 6

[6] Wise & Shaffer, 2015

[7] See Chapter 4: Caplan, J.M. & Kennedy, L. W. (2016). Risk Terrain Modeling. Crime Predictions and isk Reduction. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

[8] This may also be relevant for ‘patrols’ via CCTV cameras. See: Piza, E. L., Caplan, J. M., & Kennedy, L. W. (2017). CCTV as a Tool for Early Police Intervention: Preliminary Lessons from Nine Case Studies. Security Journal. 30, 247-265.

[9] Braga, Anthony A., and David Weisburd. 2010. Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[10] Louiselli, J. K., & Cameron, M. J. (Eds.). (1998). Antecedent control: Innovative approaches to behavioral support. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing. –and– Kennedy, L. W. and Forde, D. R. (1998). When push comes to shove: A routine conflict approach to violence. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[11] It is concerned with the effects of the natural and built environment on human behavior.

[12]  Spiegel, A. (2015, January 5). What heroin addiction tells us about changing bad habits. Retrieved from

[13] For the full report, see

[14] Finlayson, M. (2007). Why theory matters. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(4), 291-291.

[15] (Finlayson, 2007, p 291)

Conference 2019! Join Us in Cincinnati!

Are you passionate about public safety? Do you want to hear about the latest research in policing? Would you like a chance to hear some of the most prominent law enforcement leaders and scholars explain how they believe policing should evolve? How about getting an opportunity to network with fantastically talented police professionals and academics from around the globe?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, mark your calendar, and plan on heading to the City of Seven Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 20th & 21st, 2019 for the 3rd annual Evidence-Based Policing Conference being hosted in partnership with the University of Cincinnati!

We are diligently working on the details to make this our best conference yet!  So stand by for more!

ASEBP 2019 Conference Flyer





New Student Membership Rate!

Headed back to school soon?  Are you excited?  We at ASEBP want to encourage you as you head back to the halls of higher learning this coming semester! As a show of support, we are offering a new Student Membership rate of $25 yearly.  That’s $15 off our normal $40 Associate Membership rate!


  1.  Must be enrolled in an accredited public or private institution of higher learning that issues degrees upon completion of degree requirements.
  2. Must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours as an undergraduate, or 6 credit hours as a graduate student.

Memberships expire 12 months from sign up date.  Submit proof of eligibility to to receive your discount code! Discount cannot be applied retroactively.


Membership Spotlight – Valarie Findlay, Research Fellow, Police Foundation (US)

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.


About Valarie:

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.


Membership Spotlight – Eva Ruth Moravec, Texas Justice Initiative

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.


About Eva:

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.

Membership Spotlight – Lieutenant Matt Hammer, Cincinnati P.D.

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.


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.


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 –

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 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, 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.