How do we know what works in policing and what doesn’t? Often, the answer is, “We don’t.” Policing tactics and strategies may be deemed “successful” without a full consideration of the social costs. Conversely, when individual departments develop programs or methods that have great success in their communities, there’s no real mechanism for identifying best practices and getting the word out.
At the Policing Project, we advocate for evaluating police strategies, policies, and technologies in a quantifiable way. However, as Policing Project Faculty Director Barry Friedman and extern Kate Mather explain in a new editorial for Just Security, evidence-based policing is still a niche approach struggling to find its place in mainstream law enforcement. As Friedman and Maher write:
Before police can use research in their decision-making, however, there must be more of it to draw upon. There’s a serious shortage of research on policing, and too little that makes the leap from the academic world into practice. Academics have their research projects about policing, but police chiefs regularly complain that when their agencies agree to act as guinea pigs, they don’t get much out of it in a timely fashion. Scholars study some aspects of policing over and over (like hot-spot policing) and yet there are enormous gaps on coming issues like predictive analytics, cybersecurity, no-arrest policies for misdemeanors, facial recognition, and much else. We operate in the dark far more than we should.
Even when we do research, it tends to focus on “what works,” without nearly enough attention to the “social costs” of policing, i.e., the impact of police tactics on those who actually are policed. You can’t really draw conclusions about stop-and-frisk without asking what it does to the people stopped, and to community trust and cooperation with the police. You can’t talk about facial recognition and ignore privacy costs or racial disparities. We’ve seen what happens when these very policies and tools were adopted without consideration of the social costs: public outcry, lawsuits, and loss of trust.
Read more of Friedman and Mather’s editorial, Policing, U.S. Style: With Little Idea of What Really Works, at Just Security.