Director’s Corner: Data at Your Fingertips — the National Law Enforcement Applied Research and Data Platform

David B. Muhlhausen, November 2017

There are a number of adjectives used to describe different types of research — applied, basic, evaluation, operational, and others. During my time as the Director of NIJ, I want to make sure we add “useful” to those descriptors.

One project that I am very excited about, and that promises great utility for law enforcement agencies is the National Law Enforcement Applied Research and Data Platform. At the IACP conference this year, the Police Foundation, our partner on this project, presented on the promise and next steps for the Platform. I walked away excited about where the Platform is headed, as I believe did many other attendees. After learning more, I hope you feel the same and are motivated to get involved.

Get Involved!

The more agencies involved in the platform, the more valuable the data becomes.

There is no fee to participate in the Platform, and any law enforcement agency interested may join as a participant.

Contact the Police Foundation to find out how your agency can get involved.

While the Platform isn’t a new project, its priority has shifted from improving what we know about police agencies, to first meeting the needs of agency leaders in making data-informed decisions. (See History of the Platform below.)

NIJ has provided funding to the Police Foundation to enhance and operationalize the original National Police Research Platform that was a strictly research-focused program to an applied research tool for law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. The Police Foundation is streamlining the tools originally created, providing immediate feedback and visualization of information for participating agencies and executives in a practitioner-oriented manner.

Since its inception the Platform has held the promise to advance knowledge of police organizations the same way that the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) has advanced knowledge of crime by jurisdiction size and geographic region.

Once it’s fully operational, the upgraded platform will offer law enforcement agencies the opportunity to:

  • Choose data on topics of interest.
  • Become involved in data collections to produce local findings.
  • Learn how other agencies of similar size and type are responding to particular issues.
  • Advance knowledge of police organizations in similar ways to how the UCR has advanced our knowledge of crime by jurisdiction, size, and geography.
  • Learn quickly about the effectiveness of new technologies or programs as they are tried simultaneously across multiple agencies.

The Platform will facilitate ongoing police-research partnerships, as well as spark new ones. These collaborative partnerships, supported by Platform data, will generate focused projects that can be carried out with ease and are less expense.

In addition to providing easier and new opportunities for researchers to partner with law enforcement agencies, the Platform also will help answer key research questions on the functioning of police organizations, police culture, police-civilian encounters, and the effectiveness of innovation.

When fully implemented, the Platform will collect annually standardized data from hundreds of law enforcement agencies and thousands of police personnel nationwide.

As I said before, my hope is that law enforcement agencies share my enthusiasm for this project and turn that enthusiasm into participation.

History of the Platform

In 2008, NIJ funded a study to demonstrate the feasibility of creating a platform or foundation from which to launch studies about multiple aspects of policing using the same standardized definitions and measurement tools.

The study collected data from recruits, supervisors, and agencies as a whole to determine the feasibility of establishing a longitudinal study that will establish benchmarks for excellence in policing and a platform from which to test new ideas and innovative initiatives.

Researchers from the Platform developed, field tested, and administered five different survey instruments (Law Enforcement Organizational, Chief Executive Officer, Departmental Characteristics, Police-Community Interaction, as well as a follow-up Chief Executive Feedback survey) to as many as 100 different agencies nationwide between 2013 and 2014.

In 2016, the University of Illinois at Chicago team, the original grantee, worked with us to recommend a transition of the Platform, from its development and testing phase to an operational one that could be more aligned with practitioner community needs without losing its science-based strengths. That review resulted in our funding the Police Foundation to further develop the Platform and to transition it to an operational applied research tool.

Date Created: November 13, 2017