From seeds to orchards: using evidence-based policing to address Canada's policing research needs.

Author:Huey, Laura
 
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Over the past three years, Canadian federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments have been grappling with a thorny public policy issue: the rising costs of public policing. In 2012, Canadians spent an estimated $13.5 billion on public policing alone, a figure that represents a 2.8% increase over the previous year (Hutchins 2014). This increase was not anomalous: police spending had largely been on the incline since the late 1990s (Hutchins 2014). In Canada, an uncertain economic future has brought with it a growing awareness that such increases are likely not tenable over the long term. With these concerns driving policy makers' need for solutions, talks were held, in 2012, among the various justice ministers during which they agreed to convene a summit on the economics of policing (Public Safety Canada 2013). The summit was organized by a federal agency, Public Safety Canada, and held in Ottawa in January 2013. Invited attendees--policy makers, civil servants, police chiefs, police union leaders, and academics--were asked to engage in discussions centred on three themes seen by organizers as important to addressing rising costs: "efficiencies within police services," "new models of community safety," and "efficiencies within the justice system" (Public Safety Canada 2013). From the discussions there emerged a key message: there had been little empirical knowledge produced in Canada that policy makers could draw from to inform their efforts (Public Safety Canada 2013). Further, what Canadian research did exist was scattered among various silos of knowledge gathering, and thus would not be easily accessible or usable (Public Safety Canada 2013; see also Griffiths 2014). Following from this, various stakeholder groups began commissioning or producing a series of reports on the economics of policing, each complete with recommendations about how to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada's police services.

What either "effective" or "efficient" might possibly mean in the Canadian context remains unknown because, simply put, there are no evaluative benchmarks in place. Large-scale solutions have been put forward--such as civilianization or tiered policing models--but these proposals are based on what has worked in other countries, some of which have very different policing environments (socially, politically, culturally, and geographically). (1) Other stakeholder recommendations are based on the results of small-scale studies conducted in Canada, on literature reviews, or on policy analyses utilizing selected comparative indicators--none of which tell us how to answer the simple question: What works? In essence, then, we need home-grown research that addresses local needs in light of some fairly pragmatic considerations. The question is not what policing measures we should import, or which line items to cut from police budgets, but how best to generate the necessary research to help us put in place useful policy, programs, and practices to increase community safety.

To address this issue within the present article, we examine the concept of evidence-based policing (EBP), a research approach gaining significant ground among police and academic researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. As a practice, EBP embodies the following core tenets:

  1. Scientific research has a role to play in developing effective and efficient policing programs;

  2. research produced must meet standards of methodological rigor and be useful to policing;

  3. results should be easily translatable into everyday police practice and policy; and

  4. research should be the outcome of a blending of police experience with academic research skills (Lum et al. 2011; Lum, Koper, Telep, and Grieco 2012; Sherman 2015; Telep and Lum 2014).

    These principles have been consciously integrated into well over a hundred studies exploring the question of what works in relation to such diverse topics as hot spot policing (Braga, Papachristos, and Hureau 2012), domestic violence (Davis, Weisburd, and Hamilton 2007), and countering violent extremism within communities (Murray, Mueller-Johnson, and Sherman 2015). Perhaps more importantly, the results of EBP studies are increasingly being used by police agencies in the United Kingdom and elsewhere (Sherman 2015).

    In the pages that follow, we present an argument in favour of the wider adoption of EBP in Canada. To do so, we begin by offering an overview of the current state of policing research in Canada, particularly in relation to our present ability to formulate sound policy and programs in the area of community safety. Then the discussion shifts to an examination of policing research elsewhere and, in particular, the development and growth of EBP and the benefits it provides. We then refocus on the Canadian context, exploring the extent to which EBP research occurs within Canada presently. We conclude with some thoughts on how best to encourage EBP growth in Canada in order that police, policy makers, and other stakeholder groups can reap the benefits of empirically informed policy and practice.

    A barren landscape: The current state of Canadian policing research

    Since 2012, there have been two federally sponsored summits on the economics of policing (EOP), a related research conference in 2014, a police EOP learning event, and hearings convened on the subject by the Parliamentary House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. A list of the reports on EOP generated by stakeholder groups includes a federally commissioned report by the Council of Canadian Academies, the House Standing Committee report, an external report commissioned by Public Safety Canada, and several variously produced by or for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Justice and Safety Institute, the Ontario Association of Municipalities, and the MacDonald-Laurier Institute. Whether the venue is a workshop or the pages of a commissioned report, one of the outcomes of reflections on the...

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