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Into Research? Most of You are Going to the Wrong Conferences

I've just returned from the American Society of Criminology (ASC) conference in San Fran, where I had an epiphany.


Allow me to explain. I've been to police conferences, police research conferences, government-led research conferences, EBP conferences for police, and academic conferences (small, medium and large). When I do go and actually sit in on sessions, the quality is generally pretty dreadful. I don't want to spend $700 on registration to see one decent presentation in two days of dreck. Nor do I want to spend $500, or even $100, on seeing the same talk over and over again (which is what typically happens with smaller events organized by people who all know each other, and who pick their friends or their friends of friends to speak year after year). And the thing most likely to make me want to demand my money back? When a professional conference gives somebody an hour to talk about their great untested ideas or their 30 year career highlights, but relegates the research portion to 2 minute or 5 minute "flash talks", or schedules it for the 4pm last day slot, so there's about 20 bored cops left in the audience, playing with their phones.

I realize some will be offended by this blog. However, somebody has to acknowledge reality here, and the reality is that after 7 or 8 years of warning Canadian policing that austerity was coming, it's here. We are seeing budgets cut, special project funding slashed, staff not being replenished, training budgets cut, educational programs phased out, etc., etc. Now more than ever it is incumbent on police services to spend their training and education money wisely.

So, what am I recommending as an alternative? If you care about learning about the latest ideas in criminological research, you have to be at the American Society of Criminology (ASC) annual meeting. This is an event of typically 4000 criminologists from all over the world - including many of the most respected researchers in our world - with a huge variety of topics on everything crime-related. Here are just a few of the panels (3-4 papers each) on police organizational topics only from day 1:

Interested in organized crime, drug markets, victimization? All there. In fact, pretty much any topic you could think of is there. Here's just a few more panels:

Now before anyone starts up with that nonsense that all academics talk in jargon and police officers would be lost in a sea of buzz terms, let me say this:

1. there were cops at the conference (one police officer, Simon Williams now with New Zealand Police, won an award from the Division of Experimental Criminology!!);

2. I know how much cops love academic jargon, but rest assured, with 4000 talks, I'm pretty sure you could find plenty you would understand and find useful. One of my RAs is not a criminologist, has had zero training in much of the type of work being presented, and she was able to easily get into the topics presented at the sessions she attended;

3. It's an unparalleled opportunity to meet all of the people whose work you are interested in. A lot of our EBP faves were there - Sherman, Weisburd, Lum, Telep, Neyroud, Ariel, among others. Totally approachable for any fangirling and selfie-ing you might want to do (hey, even I got in the act and selfied with Larry!). Plus, there's probably another possible 1000+ faves whose work you don't even know about yet.

4. There is a literally a tonne of Canadian research (and researchers) present from all across our own country. These are people who, because of Canada's size, are often difficult to gain access to outside of email. They gave talks on, among others things, child exploitation, decision-making at crime scenes, missing persons, arson patterns, the effects of cannabis legislation on darknet sales, right wing extremism, cybercrime and cybersecurity, evaluations on prevention training for dating violence, domestic violence prevention programs, and on and on.

As we announced the other week, Can-SEBP is limiting our endorsements of conferences and other events to only those we believe deliver quality and good value. With budget cuts here, there and everywhere, it's time to get serious about trimming the training fat and focusing on what's actually potentially useful.


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