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Issue No. 411 March 2017

Evidence for better policing

New Zealand Police has the opportunity to take control of its own profession and establish new professional standards and best practice based on evidence.

That’s the view of Dr Jerry Ratcliffe, a former London police officer and now professor with the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University, Philadelphia, and a director of the Centre for Security and Crime Science.

Jerry, who lectures in Evidence-Based Policing, spent a week travelling round New Zealand last month presenting to Police staff on HIPE – Harm-focused, Intelligence-led, Problem-oriented and Evidence-based policing.

Professor Jerry Ratcliffe in action, presenting to Executive members at PNHQ.
Photo: Hannah McKay, NZ Police

He says as the public, politicians and media gain better access to data, Police decision-making will inevitably be called into question.

“Evidence-based policing uses and develops the best available research evidence, integrated with officer expertise and an examination of the data and intelligence related to an issue,” he says. “If there is no evidence, you have to develop it.”

Jerry’s visit, organised as a collaboration between the Strategy Group and National Intelligence Centre, is aligned with plans to roll out an evidence-based policing approach across Police.

It involved masterclasses and practitioner classes at Police National Headquarters (PNHQ) and Wellington, Counties Manukau and Canterbury districts, with some sessions livestreamed for people unable to attend.

Practitioner classes covered intelligence-led policing, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, an examination of the 3i model – interpret, influence, impact, with stress on influence and impact – and the practicalities of harm-focused policing in prioritising places and repeat offenders.

Masterclasses for Executive and district leadership teams examined aspects of leadership in the context of evidence-based, intelligence-led and harm-focused policing.

Jerry’s work has included studying shootings in Philadelphia, drug markets in New Jersey and policing street gangs in Central America.

He was lead researcher on a Philadelphia foot patrol experiment, a randomised study of the benefit of foot patrols in violent crime hotspots; and Operations Thumbs Down, an 18-month investigation targeting the Rollin’ 30s Harlem Crips gang.

Operation Thumbs down resulted in a 22 percent reduction in violent crime, with improvements seen for two miles surrounding the target area.

“Evidence-based practice is only just emerging in policing and the evidence base for many aspects of policing practice is still weak,” Jerry says.

“What that means is there in an opportunity for the police service to try different things but it is really important to build an evaluation mechanism into them… unless we are capturing intelligence and data that lets us know whether we are successful or not we are constantly reinventing the wheel.

“For us to learn those lessons it means that mid- and senior-level command officers have to take risks that involve the possibility of discovering what they do doesn’t work.”

He says many police departments are too risk-averse to really examine their tactics with a critical eye and, as a result, tend to maintain certain tactics and strategies that continually fail. “If you do things we definitely know don’t work then arguably that is a mistake and there is little excuse for that.”

During the Wellington masterclass Jerry shared his project outcome litmus test and the series of structured questions he has developed to test the outcome of a project: PIMCOT – Population of interest, Intervention, Mechanism, Comparison, Outcome and Time.

Jerry has visited New Zealand a number of times and is impressed with the changes going on to make better use of evidence - particularly the emphasis on Prevention First - and has taken to social media to express his enthusiasm.

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