shift our approach from simply putting people before the courts to developing multi-agency approaches to prevent and deter offences by looking at root causes

Expert Voice: Dan Hayes on neighbourhood meets evidence-based policing

Posted on 01 May in

Q1 How has looking at the evidence on policing influenced you in your current role in neighbourhood policing?

I strongly believe that we need an evidence-based approach to policing. If we do what we have always done we will get what we have always got. There is a strong evidence base outside practitioner-based professional judgement – academic studies, peer reviews, journals, articles – all of which should form the basis of our work and decision making. I have learned a great deal from reading reports published by independent bodies such as The Police Foundation who have produced some excellent work in relation to neighbourhood policing.

In my opinion, all of this evidence strengthens our approach – it makes us wiser to the world by showing us different perspectives and by testing the effectiveness of our work.
Is evidence-based policing a new phenomenon – I don’t think it is. It was only coined in recent times but we have been problem solving for a long time using different sources of evidence to guide our approach. What we are starting to do now though is develop a more expansive knowledge of research and applying solid research principles to police work both ourselves and in conjunction with academic partners. This is both developing and challenging our work and beliefs; sometimes we are facing the realisation – ‘have we been doing it wrong for all this time?’

The challenge for policing is embedding an evidence-based approach. There is clear value in this but ‘EBP’ is often seen as a foreign language to practitioners and is met with suspicion by many. To some it is seen as a ‘buzz word’ for people to gain promotion. The challenge, particularly to people in leadership positions and those who are leading on EBP is to transform knowledge into practical application and inspire others to continually develop their work to become evidence-based and reflective.

Q2 Do you think there are gaps in the evidence on policing where practitioners awareness of effectiveness is simply not reflected in the academic literature? What could be done to better address this?

Policing is often regarded as a unique culture that many academics do not understand – this may itself lead to inaccurate conclusions. The same applies to practitioners who cast out academic studies often because of the depth of language and research methodology which can be difficult to understand.

Ultimately the evidence is only as good as the methodology and the quality of the data/input. We have also seen that certain approaches to crime prevention work in some areas but not in others – optimal forager for example. Because policing is unpredictable in its nature and deals with human beings it is difficult to create universal ‘best practice’ and ‘what works’ approaches – these all have to be interpreted and adapted to suit local needs.

Leading on from the last point, police work is often not rooted to solid research guidelines or is simply not documented at all. Sometimes knowledge of ‘what works’ stays with an individual who leaves a department and takes the knowledge with them.

For me there is a chasm between the ‘frontline’ and academics which we could resolve with people who we sometimes call ‘pracademics’. Unfortunately these people are often outcast by colleagues (see Twitter for the evidence!) who accuse them of not being on the frontline and not having operational credibility. This brings into question why pracademics are not on the front line – is this a time/capacity issue – can forces be more supportive of people to develop research on the front line?

Q3 Transversely do you think there is evidence that police officers might benefit from being more open to informing their practice?

See above! For me there is a real push towards making policing more reflective. It’s as simple as considering why we are doing what we are doing – encouraging constructive debate and challenge – although this can sometimes go against time-old chain of command/disciplined organisation culture.

Policing is evolving on a daily basis and if we are blind to the challenges of the future we will not be prepared to keep people safe. A lot of policing operates in circles – old methods reinvented to fit a changing context, however a number of challenges are new – cybercrime for example, which is changing the way criminals operate and the methods we must use to detect offences.

Likewise, demand is changing from crime-related to public safety and there is less and less we can solve alone – most of our challenges are only solved by working as a multi-agency partnership. This way of working moves us away from responding and towards prevention – but this is uncomfortable for many after years of responding and ‘fighting crime’.

We are recruiting millenials and more and more are joining with a higher education qualification – if we want to get the most out of these people we need to understand how they think and what support they need from us. This isn’t to say our future excludes people without higher education (or any) qualifications but if we are making it clear that graduates are welcomed then we need to be able to support and develop them – for me this support is very much in its infancy; it is pushed by the College of Policing but not necessarily embraced in forces.

Q4 How has problem orientated policing (POP) impacted how you work?

POP is essential in NHP but for several years NHP has been susceptible to the need to backfill the response function of policing. As officer numbers have decreased demand has increased which has led to response demand being shifted onto NHP. On top of this NHP resources are often used for public order policing and mutual aid as response teams were operating on minimum strength.

My priority since joining NHP has been to bring back POP. This isn’t a revolutionary approach – my team often say ‘this is how we used to do it’. My personal style is to use my knowledge of EBP to scaffold their work – not doing it for them but giving people a structure and guidance so they can build and own their work – ‘empowerment’ as we are calling it in policing. The aim for me is to continually build knowledge and reflect on experience, creating a learning culture – we can always improve.

POP goes against the ‘quick fix’ approach NHP has been used to for some time. The key is in the planning and preparation – if our partners and stakeholders are involved at this stage we can be confident that we build not only effective solutions but sustainable ones. The value of this is that we can prevent rather than respond, helping to manage demand and keep people safe in communities.

Q5 If there was one change you would make to how the criminal justice system functioned, what would it be?

Three significant issues from my perspective:

  • We still operate in silos and it is ultimately having a negative impact on the public who we serve.
  • ICT is a major issue – police forces use different systems across the country creating ambiguity and I’m not convinced that we were ready to move to digital files. Quality is steadily improving now people are becoming accustomed to digital working but it will take time to embed this approach.
  • CPS are also facing increasing demand and lessening resources which is having a visible effect. Often officers and CPS Prosecutors are meeting on the day of the trial and discussing the case in the minutes before it is heard, a closer relationship would allow better preparation for cases, ensuring all available evidence is gathered and maximising the strength of the prosecution.

If I were to make one change it would be to shift our (the police) approach from simply putting people before the courts to developing multi-agency approaches to prevent and deter offences by looking at root causes. There are a number of programmes operating across police forces including Turning Point (West Midlands), Checkpoint (Durham) and CARA (Hampshire) which all look towards addressing ‘pathways’ to offending – what are the causes of offending and how can we address these as a partnership to prevent offending, rather than responding to it as a symptom. The key for me is involving the CJS in these locally programmes which not only aim to prevent offending but also look to reduce re-offending. By turning our combined expertise to prevention we can potentially reduce the exponentially increasing demand on the CJS, increasing capacity and quality in the cases that progress to prosecution.

Dan HayesDan Hayes is a serving officer with West Yorkshire Police currently working as a Patrol Sergeant; he previously served in Lancashire Constabulary.

He has been a Police Officer for 10 years and served in the Special Constabulary prior to this. Before joining as a Police Officer, Dan completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Police and Criminal Investigation at University of Central Lancashire, he has since completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Evidence Based Policing and is hoping to progress to a Masters Degree in the near future. For Dan, academic study is about increasing knowledge but more importantly, sharing this knowledge to help us work through increasing complexity in policing – supporting each other to get the job done. WeCops and Social Media are a great way to do this.

He is part of the College of Policing Fast Track (PC to Inspector) programme; he states his motivation for applying for this programme is to be able to have the privilege of working with a large range of people inside and outside policing, helping people to get the most out of themselves and feel proud for what we do.

Dan tweets as @D_MHayes