Evidence based policing: some concerns…

Evidence Based Policing: the bad bits…

 

I’ve already blogged about the benefits of bringing EBP into the workplace, and I could write another three entries on why it is so important, but balance in this area is absolutely necessary. There will be plenty of people who see some real threat from Evidence Based Decision making:

  • Will it affect my discretion on the frontline?
  • It’s very inhuman?
  • It’s very slow.
  • I don’t understand this stuff. I’ve had no training and it’s just another fad that will go away.

Will it affect my discretion on the frontline?

In a technical way there is no possibility that Evidence Based Policing can affect your discretion. If you are a sworn constable then your decision making is your own, and I would urge you to exercise that independence, especially when confronted with requests/situations that you dislike. Constructive dissent, or to put it another way, constructive challenge, is absolutely necessary to a healthy working environment. Work it through with your supervision and see if you can reach consensus, but if you can’t, don’t be afraid to say no and justify that appropriately.

Evidence Based Policing fits into this very nicely, it’s a bolt-on to your current knowledge. So, for instance: if you knew that arresting 14-16yr olds for criminal damage was actually strongly linked to further damage offences from them, when RJ was proven to reduce them, it stands to reason that when presented with a 14-16 year old who had committed damage, your decision making has now been made more informed. It does not preclude you making an arrest, in fact, far from it. It just advises you that if the aim is to reduce further offending, then RJ may be the way to go.

Your discretion is always there and will not be removed by the provision of better information.

It’s very inhuman?

Do you know what? It is. It can be clinical, it can be numbers centric, it can be complicated, and you need to be trained in it to fully understand it. All of this is true. But as a frontline practitioner, you don’t need to fully understand it, you just need to be able to use it.

I personally think that getting the frontline practitioner involved in research is the way forward. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between academia and policing. It also develops your staff, aids understanding, and adds to the evidence base that the College of Police is collating. The more evidence we collect, the better the decision making for the practitioner.

“So what about the human bit? Coppering is a craft.” Yes, you’re right if you are thinking this. Every situation that presents itself is different. The people are different, the places are different, the relationships are different etc. That’s actually why policing is so special. The police are experts in unpicking societal ills on the hoof, what happens when numbers take over?

I could wax lyrical about performance culture for many hours, and discuss how crime recording brought a public service to its metaphorical knees. It would however, only be a repetition of a subject that has now been brought out into the open. You would be right to mistrust numbers, or perhaps more correctly, you would be right to mistrust the behaviours that sit around the use of numbers. Is there a danger that further use of evidence (in numerical form) may bring about abuse? The short answer is yes. Take the above example for instance. As a line supervisor, if I know that 14-16 year olds are less prone to repeat offending if an RJ disposal is used, I could always sell it as the right thing to do when one of my cops attends such an incident. I could therefore make that a requirement, and begin to utilise compliance behaviours, underpinned by the evidence based policing stick – and I could make that stick as big as I wanted.

Is this a risk?

Yep.

So, how do we address this issue? Bringing evidence based policing into policing requires leadership. Not the sort of leadership that is assisted via the use of sanction, but leadership assisted with knowledge and empowerment. It must be accompanied by trust of the frontline, a bolstering (not an erosion) of discretion, and constant reminders that cops are professional people selected for their decision making ability. Don’t use the numbers for enforcement, mandating change via compliance and sanction. The numbers should be used to enable cops to make better decisions, decisions that will ultimately fit their purpose far better than those we already have.

Evidence based policing is about helping cops to confidently stand alone. It is not about ‘making them comply.’

It’s very slow.

Yes, yes it is. In fact systematic studies can take years and years. The product from them however is far more reliable, than doing any sort of quick and dirty study. A good study may take a year or so, but inform on practice for twenty years ahead. The return on them is good value, don’t write them off. Doing it right is worth far more than anything that ultimately happens quickly but provides nothing. Fast-time decision making is for command based critical incidents, slow paced, informed decision making is for making a difference.

I don’t understand this stuff. I’ve had no training and it’s just another fad that will go away.

I could be mistaken, but if this is a fad then we have got policing very, very wrong. Learning about our profession, our behaviours, and how they affect each other is never a futile exercise. If you are relying on experience and experience alone to inform your views, then it is well worth remembering that your personal experience is a truth visible only to you. No one else has been through those experiences and their best application is in your own world, using your own behaviours. Kicking those opinions out into everyone else’s space may not be the best path to tread, as everyone else’s truth will be very different.

I know that sounds like mumbo jumbo, but it basically says that your experience is yours, it’s not everyone else’s. Collecting, gathering and sifting your experiences, together with many other people’s, is likely to turn up some common themes. It is these themes that can inform on future decision making so effectively. If this is a ‘fad’, then we might as well stop using most of the world’s medicine and medical treatment, as these came from methodical and painstaking study – mixed with tinges of brilliance. I would like to know that if I am involved in an initiative that is unique and truly works, I can prove that it works and the policing can start using it – instead of it going into the pocket of a future leader as a board example (I think those days are gone, but it’s worth remembering them).

I shall finish on the, ‘I don’t know anything about this stuff…’ bit.

Really? If you want to read about it it’s all over the web. Just take some time and learn about it. It will help. Battling from a position of ignorance is a certified waste of time. If you choose not to trust evidence based policing, then that’s cool, just go and learn about it so that you understand your position a little better. The times of spoon-fed training are over, simply because the police can’t afford it. Police and staff can take control of their own development and learn hard every day. The info is out there and it is easy to access.

Evidence based policing may bring up some not-so-distant feelings of mistrust. Before jumping to any conclusions about it, go and find out some more. It’s going to affect every police officer/staff’s job so we might as well know as much as we can about it.

Leadership and evidence based policing go hand in hand in the future. One will simply not survive without the other. The bad bits are mainly there through existing culture in the police, and as a part of that culture, any cop can begin to bring about a change, however small. Change is ours, it’s no one else’s. It’s up to us to make it happen.

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3 thoughts on “Evidence based policing: some concerns…

  1. Some good thoughts there. Two points, if I may.

    Firstly, it’s good to remember that Evidence Based Policing is the combination of Professional expertise, ethics, and the best available evidence. Evidence does not get its own way, and nor should it!

    Secondly, sometimes evidence can be complicated. Sometimes it can be very complicated. One of the problems with EBP, as opposed to evidence based practice in medicine for example, is that there can be lots and lots of different things going on. This isn’t just one chemical against a particular bacteria; Indeed there is an on-going debate around the problems of trials & the like in public health medicine, as opposed to individual patient medicine. A good police example would be the ‘Scared Straight’ programme. We all nodded sagely when the US evidence suggested the ‘short, sharp, shock’ programme actually had a worse outcome, but we easily overlooked that there are quite a few contextual differences (confounders, if you like) that may mean that other, similar, programmes may yield positive outcomes. More research needed.

    It’s complicated, and there’s a danger that if we don’t train, explain, and lead effectively on this, we may cause considerable confusion! It’s still early-ish days for EBP, but momentum is gaining on a daily basis, so we have a lot of work to do, and a lot to look forward too, I hope.

    Like

  2. Some good thoughts there. Two points, if I may.

    Firstly, it’s good to remember that Evidence Based Policing is the combination of Professional expertise, ethics, and the best available evidence. Evidence does not get its own way, and nor should it!

    Secondly, sometimes evidence can be complicated. Sometimes it can be very complicated. One of the problems with EBP, as opposed to evidence based practice in medicine for example, is that there can be lots and lots of different things going on. This isn’t just one chemical against a particular bacteria; Indeed there is an on-going debate around the problems of trials & the like in public health medicine, as opposed to individual patient medicine. A good police example would be the ‘Scared Straight’ programme. We all nodded sagely when the US evidence suggested the ‘short, sharp, shock’ programme actually had a worse outcome, but we easily overlooked that there are quite a few contextual differences (confounders, if you like) that may mean that other, similar, programmes may yield positive outcomes. More research needed.

    It’s complicated, and there’s a danger that if we don’t train, explain, and lead effectively on this, we may cause considerable confusion! It’s still early-ish days for EBP, but momentum is gaining on a daily basis, so we have a lot of work to do, and a lot to look forward to, I hope.

    Like

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