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The State of Canadian Policing Research – Let's do Better in 2019

Last week the leader of the Conservative party posted a tweet with talking points about giving "police forces the resources they need to keep out communities safe from gun and gang violence."Under the CAN-SEBP account I responded by querying whether that would include funding policing research, which I took to be a pretty fair question. One of our followers then asked me why we were "making this political."This is an important question.

The short answer is that the funding of policing research IS political. What I actually said is:

Same message we've been giving for the past 4 years to all groups (public, & private): successive federal & provincial governments have chronically underfunded policing research for the past 30 years. If you want to enhance police efficiency & effectiveness, invest in research.

Yup, that's right: for the past 30 years, PRETTY MUCH EVERY SINGLE POLITICAL PARTY (federal and provincial) has been part of the under-funding of policing research* (if you want to see a history of this, check out this paper).

And this under-funding has had serious, negative consequences on our ability to answer even basic operational questions. I should know, I track our progress every year. In fact, a couple of years ago I collected all of the published, peer-reviewed journal articles on Canadian policing topics and started an archive. The purpose of my collection was twofold:

  1. To create a searchable dataset of all of the available higher quality journal articles on policing research (which can be found under the members’ section of our website:;

  2. To develop a scoping review of the literature – the overall size and shape of it – so that we could have a better idea of both what it is there, but, more importantly, what topics are missing. In 2016 the scoping review was published as an open-access document.

Having now collected another two years’ worth of published articles on Canadian policing topics, I thought it was time to update the original review* so that we could see where, if at all, we may have improved. Caution: don’t hold your breath.

This new overview includes all of the articles from January 2016 to December 2017 inclusive, which is a grand total of 249. Yes, in twelve years, we have produced only 249 published research articles on all policing-related topics (I have codes for about 55 topics, which is also hardly an exhaustive list).

Contrary to any fears among quantitative criminologists that Canadian research is becoming too qualitative, the vast majority of studies published were found to be either quantitative or using a mixed methodological approach (some combination of quantitative and qualitative methods).

Of perhaps way more interest to police, crime analysts, and hopefully policy-makers, are the lists of what gets researched and what does not. With few exceptions, most readers will find that the topics that generate the most and least research interest remain unchanged from previous years.

Topics that generated 11 or more studies are represented in Table 3 below.

Topics that generated more than 5 and fewer than 11 studies can be seen in Table 4 below.

Topics found in 1 to 5 studies are listed in Table 5.

What was completely missing? Well, as in previous years, the list hasn’t shifted much. It includes (among others):

police anti-terrorism strategies

diversity issues

police education

policing of human trafficking

police misconduct

police integrity

police reforms

police recruitment

violence against police.

Many of the more "cutting edge" topics in policing research are not even represented: procedural justice, hot spot policing, focused deterrence, harm-focused policing.

In short, we produce very little high quality, homegrown research and many of the important topics facing police lack anything remotely approaching a Canadian evidence base. It’s beyond time we got serious about generating that base. So, you better believe that whenever I see an opportunity to raise this issue - and I've done it everywhere from Twitterland to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce - I'm going to take it. I'm an equal opportunist like that.

Bottom line: when it comes to speaking up about the need to improve the overall funding of Canadian policing research, somebody has to stand up and call attention to these issues (ie. get political). Otherwise, we get just more self-serving individuals and groups sucking up to decision-makers, more useless conferences, and still more papers no one reads on the issue**.

Hey, if you can find someone else to deal with the politics of funding research, call me.

*Oh, they'll all tell you they fund research and they do. They put out funding calls with unrealistic timelines or with very narrow topics areas that no one does or only hacks will sign up for. And sometimes they very quietly fund research on certain topics to certain researchers or certain consultants that no one else hears about. That happens a lot.

**Including mine.

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