Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Research for Police: Who Needs It?

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Research for Police: Who Needs It?

Article excerpt

This Trends and Issues paper argues that the time is now right for a more intimate relationship between practitioners and researchers in general, and the police and researchers in particular. The growing emphasis on reducing crime - an outcome focus - highlights the need for an evidence base to crime reduction practices.

Some examples are provided of what research might have to offer Australian police services in the area of police problem-solving. The paper also stresses the importance of being clear on the "mechanism " through which any initiative might be expected to exert its effect. This is a particularly important point if the many new ideas being introduced are to be effectively evaluated and thus contribute to our growing knowledge base.

This paper is in part abstracted from a fellowship report prepared for the United States ' National Institute of Justice (NIJ) on the relationship between research, policy and practice (or perhaps more accurately, the lack of it). The report to NIJ was based on more than 30 years of frustration on the part of the author in trying to get policymakers and practitioners in the United Kingdom to pay more attention to research. It was also based on research literature and on many conversations with academics and police practitioners.

Adam Graycar


This paper encourages the development of police-research partnerships with a focus on the development of ways to reduce crime. In the first section, the traditionally remote relationship between research and practice is described, and the case made that it needs to change. The drivers for this change include an increasing focus on the delivery of "outcomes", a more professional police service and an increase in the analysis of data. The second section outlines some examples of what research has to offer, bearing in mind the need to reduce crime. In the final section, some thoughts are set out as to how this agenda might be developed - what needs to change in both the police world and the academic world if productive relationships are to be developed and sustained.

The Traditional But Changing Relationship

Practitioners and researchers have operated in different universes for a long time. Researchers study police practices and criticise what they find, because that is what researchers are trained to do. They publish their work in journals and worry about tenure, their next grant, the number of citations they have amassed and the purity of their methodology. Contributing to the development of policing is not always top of the list. The police complain and ignore the research; their perspective is that they do not need the hassle it causes and they can carry out the tasks required of them without any help from researchers.

So, despite huge expenditure by some governments (the United States Federal Government spent US$44 million on policing research related to the Crime Act from 1994 to 2000), research is not currently central to the police. At the 1999 American Society of Criminology meeting, Peter Kinsinger of the International Community Corrections Association asked:

How can it be that we have spent millions of dollars on research and nobody can tell me how to reduce sex offending in the community?

Good question.

We currently find research influencing policing where:

* local relationships are particularly good (sometimes researchers involved in such relationships are referred to as "tame" researchers);

* there is a slow, steady, unrelenting build-up of evidence of a problem, which leads to improvements in police responsiveness or accountability;

* extraordinary tenacity over decades, such as Herman Goldstein's efforts on problemoriented policing, means the research message is hard to ignore; and

* there is a major single incident that focuses minds on a particular problem, like poor police-minority relations.

Some fundamental changes are now underway that will change what I call the "deep structure" of both the research community and the police. …

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