Evidence-Based Policing in 45 Small Bytes

Evidence-Based Policing in 45 Small Bytes

Gary Cordner | National Institute of Justice

Evidence-Based Policing in 45 Small Bytes

Previous AIPM Presenter Gary Cordner | National Institute of Justice


"This guidebook presents a practical framework for understanding evidence-based policing (EBP). The framework is practical in the sense that it is understandable, feasible, and directly tied to making policing more effective. In other words, it isn’t about collecting data for its own sake, or about doing research for its own sake. Rather, it is about serving and protecting the public as effectively as possible.

That said, this EBP framework is demanding because the police mission is demanding.1 The framework identifies data that should be collected, analyses that should be conducted, and research that should be carried out — all for the purpose of making policing better. Improving policing depends on producing and then using the best available evidence when making decisions, developing policies, and designing programs and practices.

The framework is presented in 45 small “bytes.” The number is arbitrary, but it illustrates the fact that policing is a broad function in a society that expects a lot from the police. The people who manage police organizations need a lot of information in order to know how well (or how poorly) things are going and what problems need attention. In addition, the public and political leaders want information by which to judge how well their police are performing, as reflected in the growing emphasis on transparency and accountability.

Byte 1 dives right into the question, “What is evidence-based policing?” Before getting to that, three comments are in order:

  1. The guidebook is mainly written with chiefs, sheriffs, and commanders in mind because the people in charge of police agencies are most responsible for making them as effective as possible. They have the strongest need for data, analysis, research, and evidence to help them make decisions that will produce the best possible organizational results. They have to answer to the public and governing officials, and they are the ones who might lose their jobs if things don’t go well. When a councilperson asks, “Chief, how are we doing?,” an off-the-cuff, vague response may not suffice. The framework presented here will help the chief respond with a welldocumented, full-fledged answer. Although the guidebook is primarily aimed at high-ranking law enforcement officials, it should be useful to a wide range of others. Within police agencies, middle managers, supervisors, and officers all make decisions and need to be as well-informed as possible. Also, civilian law enforcement personnel, especially analysts and planners, Evidence-Based Policing in 45 Small Bytes iii 1 The terms police and policing are used throughout this guidebook for simplicity but are intended to refer to all kinds of general-purpose law enforcement agencies, including sheriff’s departments and state police. are often the ones most directly involved in collecting and analyzing data and evaluating programs. Outside of police, city managers, local and state elected officials, public interest groups, and concerned citizens all have a role in holding police agencies accountable; they will all find the framework helpful in judging how effectively their police are performing.
  2. The guidebook emphasizes what data, analysis, and research capabilities police agencies should have and explains why those capabilities are important, with examples. However, it does not go into as much detail about how to carry out all the various data collection, analysis, and research tasks required to implement EBP. This is partly because that would take multiple books and courses, and partly because many police agencies already have personnel with the necessary knowledge and skills. What seems most important is to articulate a clear and workable framework that shows how things can fit together logically and contribute to more effective policing.
  3. This guidebook does not distinguish between large and small police agencies. At first glance, the EBP framework and its 45 bytes might seem tailored for large agencies only, but they aren’t. As an example, both large and small agencies need to know about crime patterns and hot spots — it just takes more work and a more formal process to identify them in a bigger jurisdiction. Similarly, any chief or sheriff needs to have a good understanding of officer morale, stress, and turnover. In a large agency, that is likely to require formal data collection and analysis, whereas, in a small agency, such conditions might be readily observed. The what and why of the framework are equally applicable to small and large agencies; they just differ in how they achieve the level of information and evidence needed to make well-informed decisions.

The EBP framework presented in this guidebook is meant to stand on its own and be easily understood. As such, references and footnotes are kept to a minimum, but a small number of suggested readings are identified throughout the guidebook for readers interested in source documents, important studies, and key thinkers."

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Evidence-Based Policing in 45 Small Bytes, Gary Cordner, National Institute of Justice, 2020