Director’s Corner: Advancing Evidence-Based Policing

David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D.

June 28, 2018

This year NIJ celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. This anniversary has been an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. Fifty years ago, 911, hot spot policing, and license plate reader technology didn’t exist. We should be proud of how far we’ve come.

The concept of evidence-based practice has been on the rise over the past decade, but there is still a dramatic need for more research.

It’s also been a time to reflect on how far we still have to go, particularly in using evidence to inform criminal justice policy and practice. That’s why organizations like the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP) are so important. I was happy to have the opportunity to address the 2018 ASEBP conference to speak about NIJ’s work in advancing evidence-based policing.

Research doesn’t help anyone unless it has on-the-ground applicability. In all our work, NIJ wants to make sure that our research answers the most pressing needs and questions of the field. We aim to fund relevant research that informs policies and practices centered on what works and what matters. There is no room in criminal justice research for an ivory tower. Research has to be applicable, relevant, and informative to law enforcement’s on-the-ground work.

Law enforcement-researcher partnerships are one way to do this. NIJ has funded numerous partnerships, studies to understand how these partnerships work and how they can be improved, and resources to help you facilitate these partnerships.

Helping Officers Build Their Own Evidence Base

Partnerships aren’t the only way to bridge this gap. Law enforcement officers and agencies can also carry out their own research, and this kind of research is often more responsive and timely to agency concerns than academic partnerships.

NIJ promotes agency-led research through our LEADS initiative, which stands for Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science. Through the LEADS initiative, NIJ supports law enforcement officers and agencies using research to inform policing policies and practices. NIJ sponsors our scholars’ attendance at the IACP conference and an annual summer session at the NIJ headquarters in Washington, DC. We also provide advisory and research support for our scholars as they pursue evidence-based projects, and connect them with a strong network of research-minded police practitioners across the country and internationally.

Our LEADS Scholars have led successful randomized controlled trials and other research projects looking at targeted foot patrol; officer stress and trauma; patrol vehicle lighting schemes; infant mortality; the effectiveness of automatic license plate reader technology; and many other topics.

They have stood up an in-house research unit in one of the biggest police departments in the country, and are leading initiatives to increase gender parity and female retention in police academies. I cannot overstate their contributions to evidence-based policing and officer-led research.

Our LEADS scholars are the pioneers of the evidence-based policing movement. Many serve in leadership positions with ASEBP, which is a testament to the depth of their commitment to advancing policing through science.

Applications for our 2018 class of LEADS scholars are open through June 8. If you’re a mid-career officer with a personal dedication to advancing policing through research, I strongly encourage you to apply.

Law Enforcement Agencies and In-House Research

Our LEADS Agencies program is similar to LEADS Scholars, but partners directly with agencies, instead of individual officers. Since NIJ started the Agencies program last year, we’ve partnered with nine pilot sites across the country to explore how they can better utilize research and implement evidence-based policing.

One of our LEADS Agencies pilot sites is the Oregon Center for Policing Excellence. The Center has incorporated evidence-based policing modules into the curriculum it delivers to every newly commissioned law enforcement officer in the state.

The Albany Regional Crime Analysis Center in New York is another of our LEADS Agencies pilot sites. They have created a Knowledge Bank and Research Consortium to connect researchers with law enforcement agencies.

The coordinators of both the Oregon and New York LEADS Agencies sites will be panelists for a Research in the Real World event at our NIJ headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 22. I encourage all of you to attend.

The Iowa State Police is a third pilot site. They are working with NIJ advisors to expand their use of research, data, and evidence across all the work they do. I’m particularly excited about the work this site is doing because it is spearheaded by a LEADS scholar.

We’re proud of the great work we’ve been able to do to support the LEADS program so far. Later this year, NIJ will publish a five-year LEADS strategic plan to guide our future work with the LEADS program.

Advancing Policing Through Evidence

Although you may not hear NIJ’s name constantly, we are involved in informing and improving almost every aspect of law enforcement work. Our body armor testing program and safety, health, and wellness work helps ensure you are well protected. Our civil disturbance research will help your agencies formulate CDU response strategies. We fund extensive research on officer safety, body-worn cameras, crime mapping, operations, and many other areas.

After last year’s IACP conference, we launched a new publication series called Notes from the Field. This series is a platform for law enforcement leaders to share their thoughts on civil disturbance, the opioid crisis, and other pressing issues.

We’re partnering with the FBI to increase the use of evidence-based modules in the National Academy curriculum.

Our Policing Strategic Research Plan and Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness Strategic Research Plan guide all our current and projected efforts to advance policing practices in the United States through 2022.

This year we released a number of new solicitations for law enforcement. These will fund research to explore artificial intelligence technology, eyewitness identification evidence, and policing-led diversion and deflection programs.

This year under our Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness solicitations this year we have called for research to examine the impact of fatigue and stress on officer performance, the impact of occupational prestige and job satisfaction on officer stress and resilience, strategies for interacting with mentally ill individuals, and how we can use technology and other means to reduce traffic-related officer fatalities.

The concept of evidence-based practice has been on the rise over the past decade, but there is still a dramatic need for more research. This has to be an effort led by the front line officers in American policing, and I hope NIJ will be a valuable resource along the way. Thank you for the good work you do.

Date Created: June 28, 2018