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Creativity within Policing: Cool Idea #1

Last year, I co-hosted an evidence based policing workshop with the Calgary Police Service. The big star attraction was my friend, Alex Murray (SEBP/West Midlands Police). As always, Al delivered a fun and informative talk that had attendees buzzing. There was, however, another presentation that had both Al and I buzzing: a CPS study on the link between oil prices and domestic violence.

Starting from the standpoint that domestic violence rates can be influenced by economic pressures, and the fact that Calgary is an oil town in which a substantial number of residents are employed within the oil and gas industry a CPS Detective and Crime Analyst paired up to explore whether a pattern would emerge if they compared reported rates of domestic violence over a seven-year period to oil barrel prices. What they found was that there was indeed a discernable uptick in reporting rates whenever the market was doing poorly and producing local economic pressures. Using this data, they argued that current market conditions meant they were under-resourced for dealing with both the current volume of DV calls, as well as what they predicted the volume would continue look like in the immediate future given market trends.

As someone with an interest in methodology, I am keenly aware of the possibility of a confounding variable being present and therefore a spurious correlation (Ie. that some third unknown factor is actually causing DV rates in Calgary to fluctuate). But rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater: why not replicate or reproduce? For example, it would be very interesting (and important) to know whether examining DV rates in other oil would produce similar findings. For example, within Canada, one great site to study this phenomenon would be Newfoundland, home to a lot of Alberta’s oil workers. Or, a similar study could be run in Dallas. Stepping out of the box a bit further: the basic idea guiding the CPS study could also be utilized to look at boom and bust cycles in other resource extraction industries (something some of my colleagues, notably Rick Ruddell (Regina) and Chris O’Conner (UOIT), work on).

But what makes this study particularly interesting to me is the fact that it was an entirely in-house innovation. The study’s authors had a general theory of domestic violence, which they applied to local market conditions by extracting, then analyzing their own data. What does this knowledge achieve: it helps CPS predict when their call load will increase on domestic violence cases. This is what we call ‘real research.’ Which brings me to the central point of this blog: many police services already have the intellectual and analytical capacity to create important, theoretically informed, applied research. Unfortunately, too often, crime analysts, police officers, planners and other employees with a hankering to stretch their intellectual wings are denied the opportunity because of an institutional preference that they simply crank out descriptive statistics to support routine operations, answer police service board inquiries or just 'do what they're told'. A couple of weeks ago I was reminded again of the dire state of Canadian policing research and our inability to answer some fairly pressing questions. Can you imagine what we could achieve if we actually had more police services supporting their people in trying to answer those questions?

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