Webinar presenter Gary Cordner with the National Institute of Justice answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "Leads Scholars & Agencies: NIJ Initiatives to Advance Evidence-Based Policing." Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: When you say evidence-based practices, can you give us an example what are you meaning, can you give us an example of what is considered an evidence-based today is and it wasn't an evidence-based practice not that long ago?
Gary Cordner: A big question, I'm not going to punt it but let me emphasize that we'll get into that in the follow-up webinar that we'll do in a couple of months. I kind of like the little phrase that Cynthia Lum and Chris Koper have used in their book in evidence-based policing. As I remember the phrase, they talk about giving the evidence a seat at the table. What that’s meant to convey is that when a police agency decides to adopt a program or continue a program, or use one strategy versus another, one of the things that they ought to consult is the available research and evidence about the effects or consequences of whatever it is they are thinking about doing. As I tried to mention briefly in the presentation, it's never the only seat at the table. We're talking about police, a government agency that has to serve a variety of interests. There's always some politics involved, always some legal considerations involved. Some police departments are unionized with maybe some stipulations or union contracts involved and so on and so forth. It's not like a study is going to determine what the police department actually does but the availability of information from the study about the consequences of X and Y ought to be as much as possible part of what’s considered. Can I give an example? The long answer to a short question as usual. I think a great example came from Austin, Texas. Within the last year or so, the issue came up, as I understand it, maybe in the city council. The question was they had a juvenile curfew that they've had for decades. The concern was in the city council that the juvenile curfew might have a disparate impact, that minority kids might be more likely to get picked up and also the larger question of is this really necessary? Is this really fair? As I understand the way the question played out, they presented this question to the police department, to the police chief. The police chief's initial reaction was (I don't have the authority to speak for him, this is my understanding) he thinks a curfew is a nice tool. The Police Department likes to have that tool when kids are out late in the night, maybe you need a tool to deal with an issue but he said let me look into it. He ended up doing two things as I understand it. He had the Police Department analyze their own data surrounding how they had used the curfew over the last umpteen years. What he found was they hardly ever use it, number one, and they had no particular evidence that it was effective or not. Secondly, he had his staff look into the available research that had been done around the country on curfews and specifically juvenile curfews and the prevailing evidence is that they are not effective, that they don't prevent crimes, that they don't protect kids, and that they oftentimes are utilized in a discriminatory fashion. He sat down and said okay, we hardly use this tool anyway, we don't have any evidence that it's useful for us and the evidence from elsewhere is that it's not an effective program, not an effective technique. He went back to the city council and said that his recommendation was to do away with the curfew.
Audience Question: Is there a cost involved in applying to the LEADS scholars program?
Gary Cordner: No cost at all. I guess what we would say is that if an agency has one of their people accepted as a scholar, it’s expected that the scholar when they go to the IACP or when they come to the seminar in the summer in DC, it's expected that they would be able to do that on company time, in other words, they don’t have to take vacation time in order to do these things. But we've actually had some scholars that did have to do it in their own time but otherwise, all expenses are covered.
Audience Question: Are there prerequisites or things that you could recommend that would maximize the likelihood of being selected as a scholar?
Gary Cordner: It's hard for me to say. That's a good question. Certainly, writing that two-page essay, in a clear and compelling manner, is definitely recommended. Don't be shy about putting yourself in the best possible light. If you have done studies or participated in studies, don't be shy about mentioning it. If you utilize research in your own position in an agency or you have at least tried to look in your agency and utilize research, definitely promote that. It doesn't hurt if you have a strong letter from your agency. We have letters from somebody's chief saying yeah if they got selected, I'll let them go. Then we get some letters from the chief that say this is my best employee and boy if they develop their talents a little bit more, they would just have a phenomenal impact on my agency. In other words, a really really supportive letter versus one that says I'll let him or her go. That probably has some influence. Let me also say, you don't have to be from a big agency, you don't have to be from a fancy agency, you don't have to have some graduate degree yourself. None of that, we’ve had some scholars for whom none of that was true but their enthusiasm and their genuine curiosity and interest came through probably in getting selected. I think I mentioned before that we had scholars who had the rank of Police Officer, or their rank was detective, and there have been chiefs of police, typically of a small place. For a chief to be selected it probably has to be a smaller place. There are lots of sergeants, lieutenants, captains. There is no specific rank that you have to be at to be eligible. It can be a small agency, it doesn't have to be a big one.
Audience Question: Will the program ever be available to civilian personnel? I think you touched on this briefly but do you think there's a chance that it will be available to civilian personnel?
Gary Cordner: I definitely think there's a chance. I cannot make any commitment as I'm only on a contract and I do not make any decisions. I can say for certain that there have been crime analysts and law enforcement planners, both of whom are oftentimes civilian personnel within a law enforcement agency, who have just, you know, begged NIJ to open up slots for them and create a program for them. NIJ is very conscious of the fact that, for example, crime analysts and law enforcement planners are often the ones in agencies most involved in using data and doing analysis, doing staff studies, making recommendations for the command staff and so on. There's a strong awareness that in fact, it could be very valuable for law enforcement personnel and I certainly hope it will happen but I'm not in the position to confirm.
Audience Question: What is the difference, if any, between LEADS and DDACTS?
Gary Cordner: DDACTS, sure. DDACTS is a NHTSA program, National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. I'd say there is probably a lot of overlap between LEADS and DDACTS. I'm not a DDACTS expert let me say that first. I think that as the acronym implies, DDACTS is a little bit more specifically data-driven. Whereas data is a huge component in LEADS but it's probably more about what you do with the data, analysis, research and a little bit of emphasis on developing evidence about what works, maybe more of that in LEADS than in DDACTS. Also, maybe one more difference I would describe, I think DDACTS is strictly focused on crashes and crime. LEADS is a little bit broader. LEADS tries to be about the whole spectrum of the effectiveness of the Law Enforcement Agency. For example, reducing crime, reducing crashes those are two big outcomes for Law Enforcement Agencies but there's other ones that matter also like catching people who do crimes, solving crimes, making people feel safer and so forth. I’d say LEADS is probably a bit broader. DDACTS is a little bit more focused.
Audience Question: What are some examples of some of the research projects that LEADS scholars have done that you've seen?
Gary Cordner: I'm glad somebody brought that up, probably a LEADS scholar lurking in the audience wanting to see if I will remember his or her study. Jeez, there's been a bunch of them. One of our guys out in Vallejo, California did a study on the impact of license plate readers then he did a follow-up study focusing, almost more of a problem-oriented policing study, focused on what they call auto burglaries, thefts from cars, thefts from vehicles which are the most common thefts everywhere. One of our scholars in Connecticut did an interesting study. He had noted that police in some countries patrol at night with their overhead lights on, not flashing but instead just solid on. The issue, of course, is creating greater visibility. You can look at it one way that greater visibility might deter offenders but also it might tell offenders where you are so they can elude you. He actually got a couple of other agencies besides his own to participate in a study for several months with randomly patrolling, lights on or lights off at night and see what impact it had on crashes, car stops and also on crimes in the communities, very neat little study. One of our scholars in Ohio looked at a bunch of different topics but one of them that was really kind of interesting, it falls in the category of the intersection of policing and public health. That study is going to sound crazy unless I give it a decent background, I think it started out with the police chief being in a citywide meeting and finding out that the city really had a high rate of premature births and infant mortality, okay? Wondering, just sort of wondering where, anywhere, the police department might intersect with that public health problem. The women involved have probably not taken good care of themselves during their pregnancy as they probably should. They ended up collecting some data to try and see what proportion of those women had any police contact during their pregnancy. As you can imagine a lot of these women are at risk in one way or another, maybe with an abusive boyfriend, maybe they work the street, maybe they are homeless, maybe there's substance abuse involved. They found out that a high proportion of the women did have some kind of police contact while pregnant. Then they were thinking what could the police do if they're having contact with these women during their pregnancy? Is there anything the police can do that could encourage them to adopt any type of healthier practices to improve the chances of their baby being healthier at birth? I think they ended up with developing some kind of a referral idea to try to put the women in touch with the best possible social services and health services that they could. It was the police department that was mainly encountering these women. It's a little bit out there. If we're saying is this something the police department should be involved in, on one level probably not, on the other it's probably something that's very important. Life and death, life and health, if there's something reasonable the police department could do that might result in better birth outcomes, jeez don't you want to at try to least find out something you could do. Those are just three examples, there's a whole bunch more. It’s been very interesting.
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