Science Matters: Utilizing Evidence-based Policing Practices to Address Criminal Elements

Police across the United States face the challenge of balancing the reduction of crime with ever-increasing policing costs. Currently, there is an increasing need for proactive change in the use of available resources to combat crime. Research has suggested that to increase policing effectively and reduce crime without pushing financial limits, law enforcement will need to shift their focus to the science of crime prevention and control with the use of evidence-based policing (Bueermann, 2012).

By using EBP, the role of crime analysis is more critical than ever. Law enforcement officers will become more effective in addressing the specific problems that they encounter by having a greater understanding of the particular nature of the crime. Law enforcement agencies should utilize the knowledge gained through the use of evidence-based policing to prevent and decrease crime (Mackenzie, 2000). Furthermore, within EBP, police should not only have the correct equipment and a sound understanding of law and procedures but that more emphasis needs a blueprint on how personnel should apply the strategies and tactics to achieve the best outcomes in crime control (Matrix Demonstration Project Team, 2016).

The director of the Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology and chair of the Cambridge Police Executive Program, Lawrence Sherman, defines evidence-based policing as “the use of the best available research on the outcomes of police work to implement guidelines and evaluate agencies, units, and officers.” Proactive efforts are essential and required to align the best practice and guidelines with accumulated research evidence. The process of putting EBP into practice by developing community and national guidelines allows the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of these guidelines police organization. Comparisons can be made across police units on their crime prevention effectiveness, providing the opportunity for national rankings of police agencies across the United States. Studies show that evidence-based research offers practical methods to bridge public safety, community service needs, and available funds together (Sherman, 1998).

The growing demand for EBP is critical in ensuring current literature and evidence is effectively used to implement policing guidelines as well as successfully assess units, agencies, and police officers across the United States. Two types of research are involved in evidence-based research: basic research and ongoing outcomes research. Basic research looks at what works best when correctly implemented in the field, and ongoing outcomes research investigates the successfulness of each unit and their accomplishments. A feedback loop becomes valuable when combining these two types of research; this loop starts with the process of reviewing available literature and evidence suggesting how policing may be improved. This loop provides the opportunity to implement national and community guidelines. These guidelines offer measurable outcomes or practices police can follow.  The effectiveness of the guidelines is assessed through ongoing evaluation from the time of application (Sherman, 1998).

Why police department should utilize evidence-based research.

Organizational culture has an enormous influence on reinforcing ineffective policing styles (Matrix Demonstration Project Team, 2016). Policework should be grounded on scientific evidence known to be effective in the field, to be effective in reducing crime. Departments effectively using research-based policing could be comparable to one another. The successes in crime prevention are easily quantified to produce a ranking system of best practice between departments. The applications of research-based policing not only allow for overall comparisons between law enforcement agencies, but it also produces effective comparisons between best practices implemented across the country. This approach provides law enforcement officers with information on the methods most successful in reducing crime. Therefore EBP provides the platform for field experience analyses; by implementing ongoing effective collection and analyses of information related to best-policing practice (Bueermann, 2012).

Criticism has fallen on EBP as skeptics say some paradigms already exist that adopting these principles. However, upon further investigation, the other models could not measure the successfulness of their implementations, such as EBP does. Furthermore, evidence-based policing is the only paradigm using scientific evidence to hold professionals accountable for their actions through the use of outcomes evidence. As mentioned earlier, the guidelines produced by EBP allow for quantifiable measures of success in crime prevention. The importance of EBP is that it challenges those ideologies and provides continuous feedback in achieving law enforcement objectives (Welsh & Farrington, 2001).

The rise and importance of evidence-based research.

Evidence-based research became prominent in the 1960s as crime rates across both the United States and the United Kingdom increased. Commissions of inquiry were set up to upgrade both of their police services leading to a difference in the way that they responded to crime (Sherman, 1998). During this time, Sherman found that using evidence-based research in medicine provided a platform where new information and findings within the field were analyzed and fed back into the everyday practitioner through methods of best practice. The success of the model inspired Sherman to look at policing in the same manner, where literature on current findings within the policing field would be reviewed and translated into practical guidelines that law enforcement officers could utilize in reducing crime (Sherman, 2013).

Due to the importance of EBP, organizations such as the Police Foundation and the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP) were established to ensure local police agencies were receiving current information on best practices rooted in research. One of the ways they do this is by compiling data by conducting seminal research where results are applicable across all police departments in the United States. The ASEBP does something great too. Every month they publish research findings in a conversational style so people can easily understand a research study. Research articles are not always easily understood due to the technical language. Emphasis must be placed on the effectiveness of the implementation and how successful agencies are at decreasing crime by using this research (Sherman, 2013).

The key points of the literature need to be summarized and highlighted to be easily understood and practically implemented across US law enforcement agencies.

Why evidence-based policing is effective.

Evidence-Based research needs to be put into practice through the development of guidelines across law enforcement agencies in the United States. This paradigm shift occurred in the field of medicine, where practitioners used science-based methods to align practice with current research evidence. The medical field has achieved this by continuously providing advanced training in this scientific method to their practitioners, so they stay relevant to current research evidence. This ethos needs to be instilled nationally in all law enforcement agencies to implement evidence-based policing successfully (Sherman, 1998).

Evidence-based policing can be utilized within units or agencies through the allocation of ‘evidence cops’ within their organizations or by partnering with local universities and colleges where there’s access to professors, lecturers, students, and interns researching the field. With the involvement of academics or ‘evidence cops’ in everyday policing, officers get exposure to the best methodologies and implementation guidelines in reducing crime. As social science research is a long and intricate process, aligning law enforcement agencies with academic institutions eliminates the time pressures of research on officers. This partnership provides a solution to increase law enforcement effectiveness without putting excessive strain on budgets and time (Sherman, 1998).

An effective tool in EBP is Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Safety (DDACTS). DDACTS is a law enforcement model used to support the approach to crime and public safety. The system combines location-based crime and traffic research as an efficient tool to distribute law enforcement. It does this by geo-mapping potential hot-spot areas (The Omega Group, 2013) Crime often involves vehicles, and the goals of DDACTS is to massively reduce the numbers of traffic offenses, as well as crime. The use of this tool is supported throughout the US by regional and national partners. The DDACTS system combines good current strategies with evidence-based research and can develop further (Mazzie, 2014).

Another proactive tool used in conjunction with DDACTS by law enforcement is the Crime-View dashboard. This device combines numerous research sources in fully customizable views and may be adjusted to monitor any criminal activity in specific areas in real-time. Crime-View has the benefit of optimizing patrol-based strategies (The Omega Group, 2013).

The Challenges of evidence-based policing

Evidence-based practices are not effectively used by US law enforcement agencies and their international colleagues, in spite of strong evidence suggesting its efficacy as a deterrent to crime (Sherman, 1998). One of the most significant challenges faced by law enforcement officers is to translate research into practice successfully. This translation is evidence-based management where best evidence is interpreted into organizational principles and guidelines (Rousseau, 2006). To address this challenge, the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix was developed to assist police officers in the translation of research into practical guidelines. This Matrix provides the development of principles and interprets studies into digestible pieces of information easily understood and applied to improve police strategies, tactics, and training. Furthermore, evidence-based research provides law enforcement officers with the practical means of ensuring that our communities are kept safe (Matrix Demonstration Project Team, 2016).

With the use of the Matrix, officers are more effective at their jobs. The Matrix allows police officers to generalize particular crime prevention principles allowing them to be more successful at reducing and preventing crime. By applying the vast amount of information on the Matrix, law enforcement officers tend to be more proactive, focused, and place orientated. Policing in the US is still mostly reactive and focuses on the traditional method of responses to all calls. However, this method leads to boredom, cynicism, and demotivates officers. While pro-active and place-based strategies are new and effective, they mostly go against the grain of traditional methods (Matrix Demonstration Project Team, 2016).

Most police practices are founded on local beliefs, views, customs, and subjective opinions, as no regulations are controlling the use of science in crime control. An example of effective policing using evidence-based methods is hot spot policing. In a mapping of 97 police studies, an evaluation conducted in 2009 showed that spot-based policing, along with specific approaches to policing are effective in reducing crime (Lum & Koper, 2011). Crime prevention strategies need to be rigorously evaluated as there are ambiguities in the existing evidence. Clearing up the uncertainties can show why specific police strategies work while others don’t, but this may only be possible once police departments adopt the guidelines provided by evidence-based research (Sherman, 1998).

Summary

Here’s an overview of some critical points involved in research-based policing;

  • The use of the 911 system produces a reactive approach concerning policing. Research-based policing provides the opportunity for police officers to become more proactive than reactive to crime in communities.
  • Police training facilities places an overemphasis on procedure based policing. Changes need to be made within departments to accommodate for research-based policing.
  • The use of technology such as in-car computers and the use of the vehicles themselves discourage officers from actively patrolling and engaging with community members.
  • Supervision by senior officers encourages adherence to procedures. While very important, this is at the expense of problem-solving policing.
  • There is an incentive for police officers to make more arrests as opposed to officers reducing the opportunities for crime.
  • Research on crime analysis may not be available to police officers for a better understanding of crime in their area.
  • Challenges such as the ones presented can be beaten by aggressively utilizing evidence-based research.

In conclusion, research-based policing is a useful tool used in law enforcement to reduce departmental costs as well as improving proactive policing strategies. Although challenges arise with the process of translating research into practice, the ASEBP is solving this problem with publications on this issue. Technology-based tools are available in assisting with data management and analyses. Law enforcement agencies must accommodate for the use of research-based policing by either appointing an ‘evidence cop’ within their organization or aligning themselves with universities or colleges. These relationships will warrant a consistent flow of information on the latest findings within law enforcement, ensuring police officers are receiving practical guidelines on how to apply this information into best practice.

References

  1. Bueermann, Jim. “Being Smart on Crime with Evidence-based Policing.” NIJ Journal 269 (2012): 12-15.
  2. Lum, Cynthia, and Christopher Koper. “The Evidence-Based Policing Matrix.” J Exp Criminol 7 (2011): 3-26.
  3. Matrix Demonstration Project Team. “Evidence-Based Policing: The Basics Study Guide.” http://cebcp.org/wp-content/evidence-based-policing/EBP-Guide.pdf. (accessed May 15, 2016)
  4. Mazzie, 2014 Annual Report, Everett Police Department.
  5. Rousseau, Denise. “Is there such a thing as ‘evidence-based management’?” Academy of Management Review 31 (2006): 256-268.
  6. Sherman, Lawrence. “Evidence-Based Policing.” Police Foundation (1998): 1-16.
  7. Sherman, Lawrence. “The Rise of Evidence-Based Policing: Targeting, Testing, and Tracking.” The University of Chicago (2013): 377-451.
  8. The Omega Group, An Omega Press Release 2013. www.theomegagroup.com/press/press.html.
  9. Welsh, Brandon, and David P Farrington. “Toward An Evidence-Based Approach To Preventing Crime.” The Annals of the American Academy 578 (2001): 158-173.

By Nicole Powell, BS, Sergeant, New Orleans, Louisiana, Police Department

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