A former police chief reflects on how law enforcement agencies can do a better job of using science to reduce crime.
Cities face a growing number of fiscal challenges, among them balancing the need to combat crime with the cost of policing. Decreases in funding for public safety mean that police departments cannot support an ever-increasing number of law enforcement officers — or, in many cases, even the status quo. Therefore, police officials must shift their attention to the science of controlling crime and disorder. That model is called evidence-based policing, and it represents the field's "most powerful force for change," according to criminologist Lawrence Sherman.
In his seminal work on the topic, Sherman defines evidence-based policing as "the use of the best available research on the outcomes of police work to implement guidelines and evaluate agencies, units and officers." Evaluation of ongoing police operations is important because it can link research-based strategies to improved public safety outcomes, allowing police agencies to move beyond a reactive, response-driven approach and get smarter about crime control.
Evidence-based policing leverages the country's investment in police and criminal justice research to help develop, implement and evaluate proactive crime-fighting strategies. It is an approach to controlling crime and disorder that promises to be more effective and less expensive than the traditional response-driven models, which cities can no longer afford. With fewer resources available, it simply does not make sense for the police to pursue crime control strategies that science has proven ineffective. As U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli states, "We simply can't be spending money on what doesn't work."