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Commerce and Science

I get a lot of political flak for not being the friendliest, most collaborative person in the policing community, because I tend to prefer to stand outside of a lot of policing politics and, for lack of a better term, back scratching. We also run Can-SEBP similarly. There's no sponsored events -- you'll never see Can-SEBP's "Geritol Hour for Aging Cops" or the "Budweiser-Amazon Cocktail event" where we down beers and watch videos of drones delivering packages.

There's also no external promotion of products and very little co-branding with other groups on our products or activities. And when we do partner on an initiative now, it's very strategically: on a specific objective that serves mutual purposes, within a set of careful parameters, on an one-shot only deal basis. That way, my phone doesn't ring with complaints when I've publicly shot holes through the latest policing fad du jour or in response to criticisms made of some of the nonsense claims sponsored by this person or that group.

I can't lie: on a personal level, it's because I can't stand BS.

But on a professional level, it's because Can-SEBP has to be above the fray. How could you trust us if we told you there is a strong evidence base for a given technology or program, and then you find us shilling for its makers on social media or at an event? You wouldn't.

As much as is humanly possible, evaluative science has to be independent, rigorous and steadfast in resisting external pressures. If you don't believe me, here's a list of some notable examples where financial considerations (both commercial and non-commercial) tainted science with disastrous results:

  1. thalidomide (pressure on governments to allow release of drug before sufficient data from clinical trials)

  2. the MMR vaccine controversy (lawsuits against manufacturers funding junk science)

  3. OxyContin (non-evidence based claims that opioids were not addictive and incentives to doctors who engaged in over-prescribing practices)

In the policing world, we know also have the new Reid Technique controversy, wherein the firm that sells the Reid interrogation technique to police services (worldwide) is suing Netflix and producer Ava Duvernay over what they say is a mis-characterization of the Technique. Given there is a fairly consistent body of research suggesting it produces false confessions*, the fact that any version of Reid is still being taught is nothing less than shocking. Anyone doubting the incentive to continue promoting this technique is financial, only needs to look to the lawsuit.

None of the above is to say, by the way, we've never taken corporate money. When we first started out, Can-SEBP applied for, and received, two years of funding through the foundation of a corporation that is ostensibly geared towards promoting education. At first I was okay with it, because it was completely hands-off, no-strings. We weren't even obliged to thank them for the workshops we hosted. Then I started to see how they were substantially bankrolling other groups. And then I was asked if I would present at one of their meetings. And the funding application asked how I would involve their employees in our workshops. And I felt kinda pressured to have lunch with one of their sales guys for no ostensible reason, until he casually mentioned he was making a pitch to one of the services with which I work closely. And. And. I started to feel like Alice down the looking glass.

We stopped the funding. We also stopped answering inquiries from the private sector about doing research on commercial products (which they strangely never wanted to pay for and wanted only to have tested to show they work). And we put on mute individuals and groups that would tag us on social media to promote their stuff **.

Now I perfectly understand that sponsorship helps groups with limited resources make their payroll or put on their event (so they can, in turn, feed the kitty). However, I have a legitimate concern about how the lines can and frequently are blurred. I'm especially concerned about the implications for evidence based policing, and police science more generally, when groups that are quick to jump on promoting science when it's convenient -and makes them all trendy - are also shilling products and services, especially those with little to no clear evidence base.

We also disengaged from a number of relationships and gave up on the "trying to be friends" with everyone to "get along" stance we took in the early days. The reason is simple: it's easier to withstand the pressure to just "go along" and keep quiet when you stand outside. As I've always said, we're not here for the revolution, we're here for the evolution. Selling out your integrity in the short-term to gain some small advantages is not the wisest long-term strategy (unless you intend to keep doing it. Forever).

So, yeah, we're going to keep fighting our own corner, even if it means doing it entirely by ourselves. #longgame

* From a recent Variety article: "John E. Reid, a former Chicago police officer, wrote a textbook on police interrogation. He died in 1982, but his company continues to offer training in the Reid Technique. The company also licensed its method to Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, a firm run by two former John E. Reid and Associates employees. For decades, Wicklander-Zulawski offered a competing version of the Reid Technique, but in 2017 the firm announced that it had abandoned the method, citing the risk of false confessions arising from the misuse of the approach" (Maddaus 2019).

** Yes, I'm talking about you, Mr. Operation Identification

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