I had a meeting the other week with two of the savviest people in the U.S. policing world. That meeting unleashed from me a torrent of impassioned statements about the future of EBP and where I see this movement about to go off the rails. At one point, I even had to stop and acknowledge that it was probably like being hit in the head with a sledgehammer for my captive audience. But I didn't care. It's a very important issue and it needs to be addressed.
Here's what some of us see happening in Canada and globally*: an overwhelming focus on training, educating and persuading police leaders and middle managers to 'buy-in'.
This shouldn't be surprising. The UK SEBP was formed by graduates of the Cambridge MsT program for police leaders. A lot of ANZSEBP's original group were graduates of the Cambridge program. So too were some of the ASEBP folks, who are also are drawn from the ranks of mostly middle management and are part of the National Institute of Justice LEADS program (geared towards mid-career officers). And our own Exec has a couple of people in both the Cambridge and LEADS programs. We have also actively done outreach to police leaders across Canada, including, on several occasions, me literally waylaying police chiefs in stairwells. --special shout out to Adam Palmer in Vancouver!--
The idea behind garnering support for EBP among the leadership cadre makes some strategic sense. It's hard to do research within police services when the organization's leaders are not supportive. And we've had lots of success there that has lead to some fruitful collaborations and truly enjoyable working relationships. That said, and despite what people may have thought, never for one second did we see ourselves as an organization solely or mostly for police leaders. In fact, that flies against what has always been our motto: "here for the evolution, not the revolution."
The Evolution entails finding ways to work with the smarts, talents, analytical skills, insight and knowledge of frontline officers, and helping to empower them to use those abilities to their fullest potential. That need to foster empowerment stems from my own observations in the field of watching truly caring people being slowly ground down by a sense of futility because they did not feel they could change a single aspect of their working environment. Not one. As Steve Jobs once said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work." So, what we've been trying to do at CAN-SEBP is to focus on ways we could change as much of the soul sucking aspects of life on the police hamster wheel by creating tools to help individuals be able to start to work through problems, construct solutions and make those solutions credible enough (because they are based on sound evidence) to at least be able to convince one person somewhere that something COULD be done. And it's a win-win when that happens. Because those frontline people will help us - the global EBP community - to create research we need and, maybe one day, they will become become the next lines of middle management and senior leaders. As I once told two frontline officers in front of a Deputy Chief, "I'm not here for him, I'm here for you."
So, regardless of whether anyone likes it or not, we are focused on two things:
- finding those few police leaders who support empowering their officers to become innovative and working with those leaders to foster those opportunities
- creating development opportunities for frontline officers who see something in EBP that speaks to them and their potential as agents of meaningful change
There's an interesting sub-text in the two lines above that some of you may have picked up on: CAN-SEBP is not for everybody and we're not trying to be. In fact, we have zero
interest in mass appeal and pretty much every one of the people or groups who don't want to work with us are exactly those we have zero interest in**. What's that expression?
"I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member"
"the membership dues are too steep and the benefits too cheap to be a
good investment" (Laura Huey).
Further, and I think I speak for the entire group when I say none of us particularly aspired to being the popular kid in school, who won homecoming king or queen. Myself? I was in the school parking lot hanging out of a '67 Camaro, smoking cigarettes and curling my lip. You don't have to be an anti-social iconoclast like me to be able to see outside of the mainstream of any group and dream of doing 'something different', you just have to want to try to bring some level of change to your little corner of the world. And, if we can, we (CAN-SEBP) will try to help you***.
That's how evolution works. It works by finding, encouraging and/or supporting those few who will make a difference in their own little corners, modeling for others how to 'think different.' And those people who watch and see 'different', some of them will want 'different' too ... and on and on and on.
*I'm hardly the only one who see is that way. A lot of the push back against EBP from frontline officers in the U.K. has been framed as resistance to 'academic nonsense from senior officers.' I get it: as someone said to me recently, both frontline folks and their police associations, are 'change weary' because they've been through successive iterations of top-down management philosophies and strategies that have produced minimal results, while raining upheaval on the people who are tasked with making them work. One can't blame anyone for viewing another apparently top-down initiative as something to be approached with skepticism. We have to acknowledge and own that.
** This is why I always laugh when people**** warn (or threaten) me that I'm in danger of upsetting some person or group and that it will ruin everything we've achieved. All that tells me is we haven't actually achieved much in fostering an environment of openness to critical thinking.
*** I'd like to thank the police associations for being supportive of the work we're doing in this area. I wasn't sure what they'd think about these crazy researchers and crazy cops preaching another bloody change model, but they've been incredibly helpful. I'd also like to thank the amazing police leaders across Canada - and you know who you are - who have recognized and supported the need for creating a new environment. You girls and guys are awesome. I'd also like to thank the people - the constables, the sergeants, the staffs, the crime analysts, the planners, and everyone else - who show up every day to make a difference.
**** If you thought this was about you, I can only say 'maybe?' The reality is there are a lot of people over the past 5 years who have warned me that I MUST do x or y, or god forbid, DO NOT do z. Clearly, these warnings have had zero effect. See the part about being an anti-social iconoclast. Also see I Jobs, verse 12.3:" Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice." After all, "if the ones telling you how to start or how to stop actually knew what they were doing, they'd have successfully accomplished what you're attempting, instead of trying to direct your efforts from the comfort of their armchairs" (Huey III, verses 17.3-17.4).