As we travel home from a superb few days in Philadelphia (where the weather is as unpredictable as my wardrobe) it is time to put pen to paper and relay some reflections about the American Society of Evidence Based Policing conference 2018 and the way in which these events continue to be received. Both Ian and I spoke at the conference at Temple University, Philadelphia.
The conference was attended by officers of various ranks and roles from across the US, academics, students and individuals from other agencies with an interest in policing. This blog outlines some of the highlights of the conference and reflects on how both the UK and USA police and policing academics are experiencing similar issues with the evidence (and we are applying a broad definition to evidence here) based policing debate.
Body worn cameras
Deescalation in police and citizen encounters
Translating evidence for practitioners
Media and policing
Violence reduction strategies
So what did we learn about US and Canadian policing?
First and foremost the problems that the Canadian and American policing family face are largely historical, social, geo-economic problems arising out of mental health, poverty and increased levels of citizen violence. Although in both these countries officers bear arms, this is largely inconsequential in contrast to the volume of demand versus the capacity to deal. As in the UK, vulnerability, complexity, efficient multi-agency partnerships and effective officer training all play a crucial role in the capability of officers to deal with these issues.
We heard of a number of both long term strategic approaches and reactive tactical work from both academics and practitioners. Many of these were built on collaborations between both; which was refreshing. These propose effective means to deal with these problems and are similar to approaches currently being trialled and evaluated in a number of UK forces. The practice of collaborating with academic institutions, as you would expect with EBP, was well voiced. As well as traditional crime issues, much was discussed about the need for research to explore wider social issues and to ask questions about the growing role of police as social welfare agents and what work is valued in policing – again similar discussions to that in the UK. Contrary to popular belief the sociology of policing featured heavily throughout the first morning and the need for learning from the past was a key component of these sessions. Very positive!
Professor of Criminology at John Jay College, David Kennedy, alluded to this in relation to a violence strategy. This coheres with the UK story and the challenges violence presents to the public and the officers attempting to deal with the increase. No short term fix will solve the intense social problems that play a role in the growing problem of violence in both countries, as well as the challenges of mobilising appropriate agencies.
Jerry Ratcliffe hosted the conference and delivered some amusing and inspiring talks about research in the US context. It was encouraging to hear his recognition of the need to utilise qualitative research methods to explore the why’s and context of some of the trials being discussed. Furthermore he emphasised that the mixed methods evaluation conducted in Philadelphia on predictive policing had deployed intense observations to ensure the research understood the wider context of simply just ‘doing patrol’. This picked up officer discretion and engagement with the community and formed a core part of the research strategy.
Body worn cameras threaded through many of the US presentations, and more interestingly there was a good deal of debate about the possibility of using them to explore community and police interactions. In a sense, to consider procedural justice and view events leading up to quick decisions made at the time. Often we do not understand the context of police decision making and this was an interesting inclusion to the conference themes.
Police welfare and well being also featured as a core thread during the two days. An interesting, yet small trial, described by Associate Professor Lois James, highlighted some promising results on sleep training for officers who has experienced symptoms of fatigue. The similarities here to UK police officers was evident and Ian’s paper outlining his own work on police well being was received well and with much interest from the US cops in the room.
All of this was held together by the wonderful Queen of American EBP Dr Renee Mitchell, whose passion and love for policing is apparent in her every word!! Hats off Renee for a fabulous conference.
So who are the attenders?
One of the most inspiring features of the conference was seeing the amount of practitioners in the room doing small scale research projects, testing new innovations and challenging their own assumptions. They were conducting pre and post evaluations, interviews, small randomised control trials, ethnography or observations and systematic reviews. This was with the aim of helping them understand hugely complex and multi-faceted problems, together with the impact this was having on the officers. All these people wanted to do was the right thing, deploy resources in the right places where community relationships could be enhanced and use research to help them do this. They had proactively built relationships with academic institutions to facilitate the co-production of this process. In essence, they had done it without formal education in many cases, or previous knowledge of academic research. Much had been driven rightly, from their own craft knowledge and experience of the job. Police training in the US is even more disparate than the UK, with different states provide different types of training to their staff. For these 230 or so people in the room this world of making EBP ‘business as usual’ is even more fresh and new than it is for us in the UK.
So what are the similarities?
As well as the issues discussed at the conference relating to crime and social problems, a key theme related to the way this work is received by other officers in their own forces. We regularly heard familiar descriptions of officers feeling like they are being stabbed in the back by colleagues, considered as too academic and moving away from the importance of craft learning, as well as a general reluctance for forces to sometimes apply learning. These featured in the US states as well as they regularly do at home in the UK. The general problem of, ‘what counts as evidence and knowledge,’ is apparent on both sides of the pond and continues to relate to concepts of credibility and worth.
A future challenge may be to increase the engagement in respect of the world of social media. There was clearly a substantial number of officers who followed the event on line, however these seemed to be more voyeuristic than contributive. Officers pursuant of EBP methods can draw meaningful support from positive social media commentary and debate about their work. However, there seems a reluctance to embrace research, and a feeling many are watching in the wings rather than being a critical mass engaging in the virtual world. This is from people who may have a general distrust and uncertainty of research and academia. We would argue that most officers and academics who work in this area, whatever their chosen methodological approach or area of work, genuinely care about policing. This equally applies to those who are quick to critique innovation – of course they care passionately too. However, some commentary is often personal, hurtful, and outcomes such as withdrawal are seen. This is wholly unnecessary and quite preventable. Complaints about terminology, academic referencing or being accused of being too bound by certain methods is not supportive for those venturing into EBP for the first time – we are all learning all the time.
Whatever thoughts are about the concept of EBP and how it is defined, making derogatory, personal and unfounded comments to those involved in it is inappropriate. A great deal of effort goes into these events and they are attended by a lot of people who are passionate about improving a challenging public service in the best way they can.
We hugely thank Renee and her amazing team for a fascinating two days. It is about time we started supporting each other’s differences, respecting alternative standpoints and moving on from creating silos when all we all really want is to make a difference to cops and communities.
If anyone wants any further info on the event I would be very happy to share details of speakers and papers presented on the above subjects.