Caroline Hay and Emma Williams

Evidence Based Policing (EBP), what it means to the front line, the way it is defined and the methods to get more officers involved in ‘doing it’ has been a contentious topic for some time. There is a growing body of academic work exploring officers’ perceptions of a sense of involvement in, and understanding of, EBP. Indeed, a recent presentation by a PhD student, delivered at the winter meeting of the Society of Evidence Based Policing conference highlighted the ongoing issues officers have with this concept. Interestingly one of the key themes emerging from the findings of this research was the sense that officers own professional expertise is often ignored in the process and outputs of EBP. This in itself is linked to their disengagement.
Given this it was positive to see the recent definition coming from the College of Policing which, I hope, allayed some myths about their own perceptions of what EBP is. It was particularly reassuring to see within the definition:
• The recognition of professional knowledge and;
• The fact that EBP is not simply about evaluating police work but also it serves to help understand and define problems better. In fact if this first part of a problem solving process is incomplete there is likely to be limited effect of any applied tactic or strategy.
It was with all these issues in mind when @wecops decided to hold a debate on EBP and given the excellent blogs produced by @WYPOwenWest on this subject area we were very lucky to have him involved to host this important conversation two weeks ago.
This blog will highlight some of the issues raised to provide an overview and summary of the evening’s conversations.
Q1. How do we engage front line cops in EBP and where can research be best applied to tackle pressing operational need?
This question is vital – as the team predicted the chat response did not produce many answers for later part of this question. Given the academic literature on this and the lack of involvement the respondents described in the research mentioned above, it was not surprising that a wider police audience mirrored some of these thoughts. We hope the summary below effectively starts to explore some of the reasons for this.
Initially, Tweets, perhaps predictably, called for front line engagement. It seems to be a popular soundbite, ‘let’s speak to the boots on the ground.’ These opinions are also in harmony with research from many other occupations about employer / employee engagement and involvement. However there is an important role to be played by academics here too.
Part of this lack of understanding relates to officers not seeing the potential benefits of EBP because they do not feel involved in EBP processes. As highlighted by @Dwanalysis: I think if we involve the front line in research they will engage if they see the possible benefits. @TheBigHon agreed and stated: absolutely, give them a role in leading projects and studies!
Whilst this is a great idea and offers genuine suggestions, some were also keen to point out that this is not always practical with operational commitments and resource constraints. @Oakhampolice argued: What is it? Stretched front line honestly don’t have the time to think about it.
The reality of policing presently is that front line officers do not have the time to engage with EBP. What was disappointing about the debate on the night was the lack of engagement from front line officers. This is perhaps related to them not knowing exactly what EBP is or perhaps it was related to something else. However, it was clear that there is a feeling of cynicism about this from some as there is towards many new policing approaches. As @ktbg1 remarks: So many projects are ‘doomed to succeed’ & don’t follow the evidence, many are cynical about getting involved in testing properly.
Interesting the host himself acknowledged this and stated that perhaps EBP has been too elitist and a promotion tick box…it needs an egalitarian approach for front line. Simon Holdaway made an interesting comment about the amount of involvement required of the front line at this stage. stating: I’m not sure why the front line needs to know much about EBP right now. V early days in UK. Decide long-term strategy first.
In ways this was supported by Paul Quinton from the College of Policing: “A wide uptake (of research and academia) amongst frontline at the mo. But their practices can be evidence based if higher-ups communicate evidence via other means such as briefings, guidance, standard operating procedures, etc. GPs prescribe drugs based on the guidance they get, not because they necessarily know the ‘science’ behind the guidance. Some do of course and will have even contributed to the evidence base”.
With the demands facing officers some might argue why should we be burdening officers with the detail of EBP? However, there has to be the right balance between simply giving officers SOPs, briefings etc., based on research and involving them in discussions about actioning them. The potential negative ramification of this being that their sense of being de-professionalised by EBP is confirmed by such decisions to leave them out of elements of the process.
As @EBPegram argues, there are good reasons for engaging officers as evidence needs to be understood before its’ implementation.
Other comments relating to Q1 focused on accessibility and language. As articulated by @Kerrinwilson999 – Too much emphasis on front line cops to do research on #EBP Forces / CoP need to package up ‘what works’ in easily accessible format.
However as @RockandDroll stated this is not just about using research it is about embedding a need to review what you do and learn from it: When putting together an op, results analysis/EBP should be part of it, resourced adequately. Great CPD (continued professional development) for the right person too!
This is interesting – is there an argument for a central and standardised package, updated when new research is established such as the what works centre as a standalone or should we be engaging with officers to ensure analysis of any results following the implementation of such evidence – surely both. As @DannoReynolds informed us the ‘What works Centre’ at the college & Polka, are a great source to find evidence and real life working stuff from police officers in post. But if we also want to ensure we are evaluating police work as standard practice, engagement with officers and embedding a further understand of EBP is vital. Not simply being able to access what works information.
Q2. How can we re-direct the principles of evidence/knowledge based policing more towards the front line?
This question aimed to explore how we can get police officers who are regularly engaged in patrolling to become involved with EBP. @OakhamPolice related this again to time point: #WeCops I’m really sorry but my response colleagues are fighting hard to keep up with day to say stuff they just don’t have time. However this was challenged by @DedicatedPeeler: But this is the problem. It’s like chicken and egg. Can’t deal with problems as too busy, so they remain problems #wecops It’s on repeat.
ktbg1 endorsed this argument: Desmond Tutu said ‘we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in’ However it is interesting that many cops still consider EBP to be mainly dealing with symptoms of problems over long term issues (what works over what matters) and this is in itself a challenge both to forces and academics alike.
As @wecopscaroline warned-what about immediate ‘risk’: You can’t let people drown whilst you’re trying to find the solution #wecops. This is the balance.
@Ktbg1 informed the debate group that in Thames Valley Police, she has introduced a journal system for when research and evidence has been gained. This is accessible to officers who are embarking on new and local projects. This seems ideal. It would be interesting to see how many people use this. When time constrains are a factor, officers need information to be presented simply and succinctly for them to engage with and understand it.
The host, @WYP_OwenWest bought the conversation round again to the issue of problem definition: We talk a lot about problem solving but rarely use analytical techniques and dare I say it science to do so. This can be particularly challenging to officers who think they have a clear understanding of what exactly local problems are. There is a perception that there is a general unwillingness to give appropriate weight to professional observations…Peter Kirkham voiced: I feel that professional / practitioner observations are EVIDENCE. Not opinion! In some areas empirical data can’t be obtained easily/affordably/at all!
The new definition of EBP may allay some of these issues and also as @thebighon stated: maybe the #PEFQ will change officer’s attitude towards EPB?. Could it as PCSO Sarah Barberini‏ argued, play a role in helping to remove the mystery surrounding EBP. This could create a greater understanding at frontline level. Any benefits are a bonus.
Interestingly @Okkiperpernoot highlighted the need for senior leaders to play a key role in front line progression in this area: #WeCops if senior police officers (Insp. and up) aren’t trained to work really intelligence led, all effort to insert any research will fail
This is a critical point as highlighted by both @thebighon and @dannoreynolds: Show them how they are already using Evidence-Based practice.
Discussions about intelligence led policing and problem solving are central to EBP and have both been operating in police work for many years – perhaps this is a way in to explaining the aims of EBP. Lastly, @inspEricHalford gave a tangible answer about how to make EBP real for cops: Evidence cafes have proven a fantastic way to get them actively engaged
Q3. How can we embed, use and develop EBP/KBP so it is business as usual instead of unusual business?
This debate very much returned to original discussions, with @JamesSenior209 encouraging inclusion: Open up projects to all, not a select few. Then ensure everyone is recognised at the end to encourage others to get involved
This debate was always likely to attract challenging comments from some and it is important to highlight these viewpoints given they may be indicative of many. These maybe hard for senior leaders to change: @Agedbobby You can’t (make it business as usual). These questions merely serve to highlight that you don’t know what you’re doing. #wecops #ebp absolute nonsense.
@daimogssoapbox had a more holistic response to answering this question, suggesting: a multi-level approach #blended learning peer 2 peer, champions, e support, coaching, direct micro teaches, ID benefits. Additionally @SuperSteveLyne provided a more positive outlook: letting people see results, it will be addictive to all if they see outcomes, need a few to start the movement in teams!
@PS_498_Morrison makes a really valuable point about balance: Recognise value in evidence from experience vs evidence from data. Front line walking data mines that should be valued & engaged! #WeCops
Of course we must not lose sight of experience and it was inevitable that this would come up in this debate. The value of this is unquantifiable but most would agree, invaluable. It must work in conjunction with evidence for this to work and it is so positive to see this recognised formally in the College’s definition.
The answers to these individual questions did cross over and emerge in themes. The most interesting issue, given how much is written on this was perhaps the acknowledgement that EBP is a term used to describe some elements of policing that is already in place such as, intelligence led policing and the SARA process. Plus the debate about whether front line officers should simply receive the outputs of research via guidance and briefings and not worry too much about how they were created. In order to install a culture that is willing to review practice as standard this is problematic. Plus without understanding such guides and not being involved in them officers’ sense of professional identity can be undermined.
This is a great Tweet to end with and relates to both evidence and experience – indeed sometimes we undervalue what we are already doing.
@Gooderspg: he greatness is already out there, good leaders will provoke its use, subconsciously we already do this, or how are we succeeding?!

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