A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the International Crime Analysts' Training Conference in Maryland. And for those few who know I generally dislike public speaking and try to avoid it at all costs: yes, it was a pleasure. I spoke on how much the EBP movement needs crime analysts. We need them to be empowered within their organizations to fill a critical research role, and that our job at CAN-SEBP was to give them the tools to help educate potential consumers of that research on how, what and why this is important work.
Part of the fun for me was the Q&A, which I almost accidentally skipped (in a Freudian sort of way). The questions were interesting and I enjoyed engaging with them. Then I got the question that almost floored me. A gentleman in the audience asked what I thought about the new wave of analysts coming out of crime analysis schools in the U.S. who are not interested in research and don't see it as part of their role. Then he added the kicker: the view that research was strictly the purview of researchers at universities and that police agencies could pick up the phone and call their nearby university when they needed something done.
I think my response was something like, "that is the stupidest ****ing thing I've ever heard."
And then proceeded to explain why it is imperative that police services build their own internal capacities for understanding, creating, using and, sometimes, commissioning external research.
In short: if people within your organization don't develop the skills necessary to understand at least the basics of commissioning or using research, how will you know whether you're getting quality? I could write a book on the stories about police services that have been taken for a ride by researchers** and consultants. It's shocking.
In fact, I would argue - and did so at the time - that many, many of the crime analysts in police services are just as qualified to run research projects as some of those inhabiting the halls of academia. I have crime analyst colleagues who have multiple Masters degrees and doctorates. They received the same or similar graduate research training as I did. Plus, they have years of operational experience working with police data and in the policing environment. Most of my colleagues do not have even close to that level of exposure and those who do are busy.
And speaking of quality, the night before I gave the talk an academic sent me an unsolicited email about some program they're interested in promoting and attached a copy of an evaluation they did on it. It involved a group of 12, but the initial sample size was really 6 (the people receiving the training). And there was basically no real evaluation beyond asking people who took the course for their 'reflections' post-training. From this, it was concluded that the program had the potential to reduce issues in relation to race, crime, and incarceration, as well as rectifying problems in police training. Hmmm. Big leap there n the conclusions section. No control group. No measurements or other ways to capture any signs of long-term attitudinal change. Nada. The author acknowledged this limitation, by the way, which should have provided a moment of pause. It did not. In fact, this individual happily pointed out that after a second training session, the police service involved agreed to commit all of their recruits to receiving this training. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if someone within that organization - a crime analyst, the Chief, the Staff Sergeant/Lieutenant in charge of training, somebody, anybody - would've stood up and said, "that's crazy. There's no evidence to suggest this works, so why commit our recruits to this training and create additional costs?"
Speaking of which, if I could stop police services from sending people on training that has zero demonstrated evidence base, can you imagine how many more person hours could be spent on operational activities? Can you imagine how many cops would love me because most classroom training sucks and their experience feels equivalent to being held hostage in some kind of mind control camp run by cult leaders?
Crime analysts: this is what you could be saving people from!! Resist nonsense and step up to the plate and help save your people!
*For those of you post 1980s kids, that's a little play on an old Pet Shop Boys tune. Seriously, I'm so old now that I'm having to explain my pop culture references.
** I've said this before and it bears repeating: being university affiliated is no guarantee of quality. Most people commissioning research have zero understanding of how the university
system works and think that if someone uses a Professor title, it means they're a fully tenured, promoted individual with a history of being recognized by their peers for their academic work. Reality? Most people who use this title are adjunct or sessional teaching faculty who are not full-time researchers, respected for their contributions to science/social science having spent years or decades working in their area***. Seriously, how many of you know the difference between a Professor, Assistant or Associate? Or the difference between a Full Professor or someone who calls themselves a Professor. because they teach an online course somewhere? I cannot emphasize this enough: title does not connote quality. Besides, most of the top-notch people in my field go by first names.
***I know full well there's a police version of this too - the title and credential mongering these days is a bit ridiculous. Remember when people used to earn their titles? Now, they're self-anointed. Henceforth I think I shall be known as a "supreme thought leader", "kickass innovation guru" and/or "awesomest idea incubator"