We like evidence here, we don’t like it here…

There appears to be a gathering crescendo of force behind the wave of Evidence Based Policing, and it is slowly building corporate momentum. I first heard of Evidence Based Policing on a course run by the College of Policing several years ago, and like many things that take my fancy, I went and read up on it painstakingly. The premise is really simple; in fact, it’s so simple that some people seem to be making it far more complicated than it really is. Here’s the crux, wrapped up tightly in an operational bow:

Every day we approach cases in the criminal justice system in the same way. We attend the incident, speak with witnesses, gather evidence, apply a process to that evidence, and then present it before our decision makers. The decision makers (Sgt’s, Insp’s, and the CPS) know the rules about where the evidence needs to be before a charge is issued. There is then a rigorous process of checks and balances applied to that evidence in full view of everyone in court to ensure that it is robust. It needs to meets the threshold needed to hold up a conviction.

Are you with me? Hopefully: yes, as this is bread and butter stuff.

Evidence Based Policing is about applying the same process to decision making in the workplace. The decisions could be around Missing From Homes, Restorative Justice, response times or statement taking, but the process surrounding the decisions has the same rigour as described above. We take the evidence around lots of decisions and speak with the practitioners/experts, we then assess how good that evidence is and whether the methods used to collect it hold up to scrutiny (exactly like the CPS or the courts). Once we are happy that the evidence is sound, conclusions are drawn about what it indicates, and that knowledge is fed back into the workplace to help make decisions in the future (the verdict – or setting precedent if you like).

And that’s it.

Yes, it is that simple.

But people are talking about it like it’s the next ‘in thing’ and that just puts me right off.

I fully appreciate that there are lots of fads that hit the workplace, but this is not a fad. Medicine has been using evidence based methods for hundreds of years, and they have resulted in some of the best decision making in the world of work. The evidence is in place for immensely complex operations, and before anyone says that Policing is a social issue and not a science led one, doctors and nurses everywhere will tell you that professional judgement still holds a very important place in the decision making process. Every situation is different and every patient is unique. Sound familiar?

But the bosses are all going on about it and saying it in meetings and no-one knows what it is on the parade room floor.

This is a huge problem and illustrates one of the major issues with EBP. There is distinct difference between what could be called DMT (Duty Management Team) and SMT (Senior Management Team). The percentage of time spent assessing and working on real incidents on DMT, is far higher than that of SMT. The pressure of the radio and real life unfolding events is immense, and DMT often do not have time to think about developing themselves and running full debriefs when the incidents are coming in thick and fast. Is it any shock that incredibly busy front line practitioners working extended and unsocial hours don’t pick up the books when they get home?

It is this gulf between ‘real’ bobbying and strategic bobbying that causes a cultural rift. Words often used are ‘removed,’ ‘lack understanding,’ ‘they don’t know what it is like.’ (They are the polite versions.) Well the truth is that they are operating in two different spheres, and getting them to meet in the right way is very difficult. The trick is to be very cognisant of this and actively working to link the spheres daily. It’s important that ‘strategic b***ocks’ becomes operationally sound, because if it doesn’t, it will just remain in that strategic sphere for ever and a day, with it being the butt of many quips on the parade room floor.

But I’ve been using evidence in my decision making for years!

You probably have. But it’s anecdotal and based on eminence. (More strategic b***ocks there.) Basically, the evidence is based only on your own experience, it doesn’t draw on many other people’s, and despite the fact that you personally may be amazing as a cop, there are plenty of others around the world that meet that bar too. Wouldn’t it be better if we can pool all that experience, evaluate it, and then send it back out to make your decision making even better?

So there you have it. There are some solid benefits of EBP, and hopefully I have helped to make it slightly easier to understand. Next time you hear the words – normally from an uppity young sprog who actually has time to read outside of work – ‘What’s the evidence base for that?’ Have a think about what they are asking. They are simply saying, ‘Have you thought about the fact that this decision may have been made thousands of times elsewhere, and that we could do with that info?’

That sounds like something we do on a daily basis all the time when we gather evidence and take it to the CPS… but there’s no resistance to that is there?

More blogs coming with some of the drawbacks too. Nothing’s ever perfect is it? 😉


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