Evidence-based policing is a style of policing that uses research to create or change policies to increase effectiveness. Lawrence W Sherman, an academic criminologist, is credited with making the term Evidence-based Policing (EBP) popular. During a lecture Sherman stated, “Police practices should be based on scientific evidence about what works best.” (Schmalleger, 2011.) This idea makes sense in that an agency should not continue to use policies that are not effective. All law enforcement agencies should continually be checking that the policies and procedures they use are the best way to address a situation.
Starting in the 1960s several organizations were formed to conduct studies on how to better prevent crime and increase the public’s confidence in law enforcement. The first of which was the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) created by Congress in 1969. While LEAA was disbanded in 1982, there are still several groups that fund police research such as the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The Kansas City Experiment in 1974 is the most well known example of studies done on law enforcement. The results of this study were not what researchers were expecting. The agency found that increased patrol units had no effect on either crimes committed or the public’s perception of how safe they were. These findings changed the way many agencies allot their patrol units.
Another study conducted in Redlands, California was on the procedure of sending a follow up unit to make contact with a domestic violence victim after the initial call. This unit would provide the victim with information on her options, shelters, develop a safety plan, and discuss stalking behaviors (Davis, Weisburd, & Hamilton, 2007). The study was done in hopes that it would decrease any additional abuse to the victim. The study found that while this was not only ineffective, it also occasionally increased the violence which was attributed to the abuser becoming angry when learning of the visit.
In a study conducted by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) on drug related violence, researchers also found the results to be the opposite of common theories. The researchers found that when there is a large crack down on drug related crimes, violence in that area tends to escalate instead of decline (Werb, Rowell, Guyatt, Kerr, Montaner, & Wood, 2010). They attributed this to the fact that the harder it is to obtain drugs the more valuable a commodity they are, as well as the fact that when you take out the ring leaders of a drug cartel, there will be a power play for new leaders. This can be seen with the current violence that riddles Mexico. The gang and drug violence there began to escalate in 2006 in accordance with Mexico issuing a nationwide crackdown on drug cartels. According to the ICSDP in order to fix the drug problem we should not focus on the criminal aspect but approach it as a community health issue.
There are many benefits to using an evidence-based policing stance, such as being able to see the actual results of your policies. This enables an agency to make necessary changes to the way they operate in order to accomplish their missions more effectively, such as changing where and when units patrol certain areas. It also allows them to come up with completely new programs and procedures they may not have developed on their own.
The disadvantage of using research to change the way a law enforcement agency operates is that those changes may be expensive to implement. The agency may even find that the way they approach a situation could be completely wrong according to the research. Another problem with an evidence-based policing system is that the results may be accurate for where the study took place, but may not reflect the same data you would obtain in another area. Things like income, education levels, backgrounds, cultures, etc can influence the effectiveness of procedures based on studies in another location.
Each law enforcement agency has to come to a decision on whether they should adopt a change based on any study findings. They should also conduct their own studies and trial periods to ensure those changes are working for their jurisdiction.
Davis, R. C., Weisburd, D., & Hamilton, E. E. (2007, December). Retrieved July 2010, from Foundation: http://www.policefoundation.org/pdf/redlands2ndresponders.pdf
Schmalleger, F. (2011). Criminal Justice Today, an Introductory Text for the 21st Century. In F. Schmalleger, Criminal Justice Today, an Introductory Text for the 21st Century (11th Edition ed.). Prentice hall.
Werb, D., Rowell, G., Guyatt, G., Kerr, T., Montaner, J., & Wood, E. (2010, April 27). Retrieved July 2010, from International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP): http://www.icsdp.org/docs/ICSDP-1%20-%20FINAL.pdf