Evidence driving change in police practice: an update from the SEBP annual conference

From 01-02 February 2016, the University of Leeds hosted the Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) annual conference, ‘Policing: Evidence as the Driver of Change’.

The society works towards the goal of making ‘evidence based methodology part of everyday policing in the UK’ and has three main aims; to increase the use of methodologically rigorous research evidence within police practice; to produce new research evidence by police practitioners and researchers; and to communicate research evidence to police practitioners and the public. The event was widely attended by leading academics, researchers, officers from a range of ranks and representatives from the police and crime commissioners’ offices, amongst others. This made for a varied and stimulating range of presentations and discussion throughout.

Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of Greater Manchester Police opened the conference by placing emphasis on the increased need to deliver effective, evidence-based outcomes in an age of austerity. It was no longer feasible to “throw uniformed officers at issues to solve problems”, he argued. Meanwhile Professor Clifford Stott, of Keele University, instigated a lively debate about ‘doing’ evidence-based policing research by arguing the dangers of conceiving it as synonymous with methodological rigour at the level of the randomised control trial.  For Professor Stott, utilisation of mixed methods research approaches, allied with greater appreciation of theoretical underpinning, would serve to contribute more positively to the evidence-based policing agenda. Later, in a similar spirit, Simon Ruda (Behavioural Insights Team) presented the case for creative, different and sometimes controversial alternative thinking in police practice, drawing upon various examples that have contributed a positive impact previously.

Breakout sessions followed on the afternoon of the first day, featuring presentations that resulted in a series of thought-provoking discussions to round of proceedings. The sessions covered diverse topics including community policing (Stuart Lister, University of Leeds); a Scottish community engagement trial (Ben Bradford, University of Oxford) and Introducing Evidence-Based Policing Tools to Police Practitioners (Jenny Flemming, University of Southampton), but to name a few.

Professor Jeffrey Brantingham (University of California, Los Angeles) opened day two of the conference by presenting on predictive policing. Professor Brantingham raised the significance of using mathematical methods to understand and measure crime patterns. Despite the fact that predictive policing was well-tested Professors Brantingham concluded that the use of RCTs weren’t possible due to the complexities of the implementation. Later, Professor Betsy Stanko (London Mayors Office for Policing and Crime) and Dr Paul Dawson (Metropolitan Police Service) discussed the impact of body worn video cameras (BWV), presenting interesting figures such as allegations of oppressive behaviour being 2.6 times more likely without BWV and that within their trial, the use of BWV lead to a 33% decrease in allegations against officers.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Newton, of the British Transport Police presented on the matter of suicide, by drawing upon findings from a randomised control trial. The trial established and tested the use of hotspots within transport networks. Finally, Professor Adam Crawford (University of Leeds) concluded the event by reaffirming the importance of effective collaboration between academics, police officers and staff. Professor Crawford highlighted examples where barriers seemingly created by organisational pressures and cultural differences had been overcome, and where high-quality research had been produced. Overall, the conference facilitated a fascinating showcase of some of the excellent work currently being undertaken within the evidence-based policing paradigm, whilst instigating a refreshing critique and debate about the manner in which evidence-based policing is broadly conceived.

A timeline of Twitter interaction during the event can be found at the hashtag #sebp2016.

Ashley Kilgallon and Sean Butcher (PhD Candidates, School of Law)