A recent issue of a Canadian police magazine featured an article advocating for a provincial Police College aimed at professionalizing the practice of policing. I took immediate exception to several claims* in the article, but my focus here is on the idea that we need U.K.-style Colleges of Policing (something that the previous Ontario government was quietly developing under the then Deputy Minister). With all due respect to my colleagues at the U.K. College, it’s not clear to me that, yet again, borrowing solutions from other countries to solve real or perceived issues in Canada is anything but an example of ‘naive policy transfer’ (also known as ‘if it works in New York City, fer sure it’ll work in Moose Jaw syndrome’). The reality is our issues here – primary among them the tendency to chronically under fund local research in favour of importing solutions from other countries – is likely not going to be cured by … well … importing solutions from other countries.
I’ll actually go out on a limb here and make a bold assertion: we do NOT need Colleges of Policing.
My understanding is the way the idea was being formulated in Ontario, at least, was a provincial Ministry department or group, staffed by Ministry folks, that would directly oversee a new professional College with some research capacity. My position? Until someone can demonstrate high levels of satisfaction with the previous or current ways in which the provincial governments run the police colleges, at least in Ontario, I would argue that allowing for more consolidation of power and oversight by provincial ministries of not only course curricula but also applied policing research is probably one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a very long time.
What do we actually need?
We need a radical rethink of how policing and research go together, not only to inform training, but also practice, program, policy and professional development. And it needs to be science-based – not just police science, but all relevant scientific disciplines – and that science ought to be conducted independently and not subject to the whims of political needs and dictates**.
If we ARE going to import ideas into policing, then let’s at least import ideas that are relevant to the goal of a science-based profession in this country and independent of political nonsense. And herein is where I make my pitch for a Building 10.
What is Building 10, you ask. It’s the “world’s largest clinical research hospital”, operating under the U.S. National Institute of Health. Another way to put it is: it’s a space where ideas move from ‘bench to bed’, where the lab and the clinic work together to develop and test interventions for what can become cutting edge treatments. Here, researchers study some of the most difficult, intractable types of diseases, using their knowledge to conduct ‘first in human’ trials that move ideas from the lab to the patient and then, if successful, into populations, eventually becoming standardized treatments. Some of the breakthroughs that have come out of this site: pioneering work in immunotherapy, the treatment of sickle cell disease, the use of nitroglycerin for heart disease, mitral valve replacements, an Ebola vaccine, and early blood testing to identify AIDS and Hepatitis.
Can you imagine a site - perhaps a police service - in which there was an independent research wing (the ‘lab’) working on developing and trialing interventions in real time with the active support of police practitioners (the ‘clinicians’)? That service would not only provide empirical support for understanding what underlies both successful and failed interventions but could also serve as something equivalent to a ‘teaching facility’ in which practitioners from other organizations could come and do an internship, learning about cutting edge experiments in tackling crime and other issues, tackling skills and knowledge back with them to their home services.
Now before you clap at me about the fact, I’m citing an American initiative as something to be imported, I want to point out two facts:
1. We have similar clinical research programs here in Canada. I didn’t cite them because Building 10 sounds less depressing than Sick Kids.
2. As noted above, we have teaching hospitals every where across Canada, so that concept isn’t exactly new to us either. I attend the rheumatology clinic at St. Joe's, where I routinely see new doctors on rotation, receiving clinical experience and supervision by my own doctor. I appreciate it because I can see they are learning the craft of being a clinician, as well as the science that needs to underpin that craft.
For a better understanding of the important work done at Building 10, check out:
* I also wasn’t super-impressed by the unsubstantiated claim that no single agency or group in Canada was providing or capable of providing independent research advice to police services. Um … hello? Strangely, the author of this claim has yet to return my email.
**To illustrate my previous point about how bad an idea it is to have a government run a faux independent College of Policing, I once asked a high-ranking government official if he would be willing to kill a program when the research clearly showed it doesn’t work. His response: [awkward pause] “Well, maybe it wouldn’t need to be killed? Just modified a bit?” Ahhh ... good times, good times.