(a) Agencies should facilitate, participate in, and collaborate on research concerning policing, including by allowing researchers access to agency employees, data, and other information.
(b) Local, state, and federal governments should support the production and advancement of research, and adopt policies that support making research transparent to the communities agencies serve.
(c) The needs of agencies and the communities they serve are integral to high quality research relevant to sound policing, which individuals and entities should consider in pursuing research projects. Making such relevant research readily available to agencies and to the public is especially important to sound policing and policy.
a. Importance of research to sound policing. Research is essential in order to develop and implement policies that promote public safety and sound policing. This includes ensuring the safety and security of all members of society, preserving the peace, addressing crime, and upholding the law, while respecting the rights of all people, promoting police legitimacy, and minimizing the potential harms that policing itself can impose. At present, agencies often rely only on loosely defined “best practices” that are weakly supported or unsupported by scientific research and evidence. Chapter 1 makes clear that agencies should adopt written policies, and that such policies should be informed by evidence, to ensure they promote legitimacy, prevent harm, and respect the rights of all people. To achieve these goals, there must be high quality research available on topics relevant to agency needs, including needs that are not always obvious to agencies, such as the social costs of policing tactics and techniques. Such research should include a broad range of sciences, from social science to the hard sciences. The production of this research requires the willing participation and insight of policing agencies and researchers, and support from private and government entities.
b. Agency support for research. Agencies often benefit directly and immediately from collaborations with researchers. Even when such benefits cannot be produced immediately or in a very short time frame, agencies should consider partnerships with researchers to be an investment in the future of sound policing. To that end, agencies should consider establishing policies that encourage and support investment and participation in research—to the extent not inconsistent with governing law and agency resources. Agency policy should indicate how the agency will evaluate requests for research partnerships, recognizing that sound research that advances the field of policing may not necessarily be what benefits the agency immediately.
c. Support for policing research. Local, state, and federal governments, as well as private philanthropic and educational institutions, should support the production of research financially, legislatively, and by engaging in data-collection and analysis efforts that promote transparency and centralization. All involved should find a way to make such research readily available, instead of hidden behind paywalls.
d. Selection of projects. In formulating, carrying out, funding, and publishing research on policing, individuals and entities should consider the needs of agencies and of the field. Basic science is important in any field, of course, but in the area of public safety and policing there is a particular dearth of important research. Researchers working with agencies should be cognizant of, or learn about, how policing agencies operate, so that their research design works within existing agency structures and does not unduly burden the agency.
Agencies often are encouraged to engage in evidence-informed or evidence-based policing, including with respect to promoting legitimacy and preventing harm. To do so, however, there must be high-quality research available on topics critical to agency needs. Currently, for some topics, agencies often can rely only on loosely defined “best practices,” which are weakly supported or unsupported by social-science evidence. Policymakers tend not to consider academic research in forming policing policy and making important decisions. See Cynthia Lum, Cody W. Telep & Christopher S. Koper, Receptivity to Research in Policing, 14 Just. Rsch. & Pol’y 1 (2012); Geoffrey P. Alpert, Jeff Rojek & J. Andrew Hansen, Nat’l Inst. of Just., Building Bridges between Police Researchers and Practitioners: Agents of Change in a Complex World (2013); and Int’l Ass’n of Chiefs of Police, Policing in the 21st Century (2011). Between 2004 and 2009, not even one-third of law-enforcement agencies participated in practitioner-researcher partnerships, and those that did tended to engage in partnerships that were short-term. Jeff Rojek, Hayden P. Smith & Geoffrey P. Alpert, The Prevalence and Characteristics of Police Practitioner-Researcher Partnerships, 15 Police Q. 241 (2012). Rather than considering data-driven policy recommendations, Tseng finds that leaders in law enforcement tend to seek out the suggestions of interest groups and professional organizations. Vivian Tseng, The Uses of Research in Policy and Practice, 26 Social Pol’y Rep. no. 2, at 1 (2012). Practitioner−researcher partnerships increasingly are important, particularly as funding and resource constraints continue to impact public institutions, and as stakeholder expectations continue to rise. Eran Vigoda, Stress-Related Aftermaths to Workplace Politics: The Relationships among Politics, Job Distress, and Aggressive Behavior in Organizations, 23 J. Org. Behav. 571 (2002).
Policies that have garnered support in the field often lack research regarding their effectiveness.Controversial incidents involving uses of force by police in recent years, for instance, has led to widespread support for reforms such as implicit bias training and crisis-intervention teams, but such policies often are ambiguously defined and have yet to be supported by strong bodies of empirical evidence. See Robin S. Engel, Hannah D. McManus & Gabrielle T. Isaza, Moving beyond “Best Practice”: Experiences in Police Reform and a Call for Evidence to Reduce Officer-Involved Shootings, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 146 (2020); Patrick S. Forscher et al., A Meta-Analysis of Procedures to Change Implicit Measures, 117 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 522 (2019); and Sema A. Taheri, Do Crisis Intervention Teams Reduce Arrests and Improve Officer Safety? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 27 Crim. Just. Pol’y Rev. 76 (2016). Moreover, the notion of effectiveness itself too often is cramped. Many researchers and agencies undertake research to determine whether particular strategies and tactics have a particular impact. That is not the same as assessing whether a strategy meets the criteria of cost-benefit analysis, including the evaluation of social costs imposed by the policing technique. See Maria Ponomarenko & Barry Friedman, Benefit-Cost Analysis of Public Safety: Facing the Methodological Challenges, 8 J. Benefit-Cost. Anal. 305 (2017); see also Barry Friedman & Elizabeth G. Janszky, Policing’s Information Problem, 99 Texas L. Rev. 1 (2020).
Social-science research is essential to achieving sound policing. It is useful in determining what kinds of policing practices and agency policies and procedures serve the goals of policing, minimize harm, protect constitutional rights, and build community participation and trust. Procedurally just interactions with the police, for instance, have been found to increase legitimacy and cooperation with the police among individuals, even when the interactions involve punitive police activities such as arrest. See Tom R. Tyler, Multiculturalism and the Willingness of Citizens to Defer to Law and to Legal Authorities, 25 L. & Soc. Inquiry 983 (2000); Tom R. Tyler & Jeffrey Fagan, Legitimacy and Cooperation: Why Do People Help the Police Fight Crime in Their Communities?, 6 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 231 (2008); and Tom R. Tyler & Yuen J. Huo, Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts (2002). Focused deterrence interventions, which blend law-enforcement and social-service actors with community members in an attempt to prevent crime and the underlying conditions that sustain violence, also have been found to be effective in combatting crime. Anthony A. Braga & David L. Weisburd, Focused Deterrence and the Prevention of Violent Gun Injuries: Practice, Theoretical Principles, and Scientific Evidence, 36 Ann. Rev. Pub. Health 55 (2015); and 2 David M. Kennedy, Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction (2009). The most recent ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Research volume on police use of force (2020) demonstrates that fatalities of citizens by officers can be reduced through the implementation of practices such as risk-based gun removal of guns from people in behavioral crisis who are most likely to encounter the police, quickly stopping citizens from bleeding, promoting effective hiring, and codifying interactional tactics that have been shown to save lives. See generally 687 ANNALS of the Am. Acad. of Pol. & Soc. Sci. (2020).
Studies show that in addition to improving policing, research also can be used to determine the conditions under which research is translated into practice, including successful implementation techniques. See Marc-Antoine Granger, La Distinction Police Administrative/Police Judiciaire au sein de la Jurisprudence Constitutionnelle, 2011 Revue de Science Criminelle et de Droit Pénal Comparé 789 (2011); John H. Laub & Nicole E. Frisch, Translational Criminology: A New Path Forward, in Advancing Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy (2016); Lawrence W. Sherman, The Rise of Evidence-Based Policing: Targeting, Testing, and Tracking, 42 Crime & Just. 377 (2013); and Robert J. Sampson, Christopher Winship & Carly Knight, Translating Causal Claims: Principles and Strategies for Policy-Relevant Criminology, 12 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 587 (2013). Practitioner-researcher partnerships provide researchers insight into the complexities of institutions, allowing them to understand better the policymaking process and pinpoint the factors affecting decisionmaking. See Anthony A. Braga, Embedded Criminologists in Police Departments, 17 Ideas Am. Policing 1 (2013); John H. Laub & Nicole E. Frisch, Translational Criminology: A New Path Forward, in Advancing Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy (2016); and Joan Petersilia, Influencing Public Policy: An Embedded Criminologist Reflects on California Prison Reform, 4 J. Experimental Criminology 335 (2008). Through research, academics become better equipped to predict windows of opportunity for positive change. See Michael Tonry & David A. Green, Criminology and Public Policy in the USA and UK, in The Criminological Foundations of Penal Policy 485 (Lucia Zedner & Andrew Ashworth eds., 2003).
Successful partnerships between agencies and researchers long have contributed to studies that inform best practices within and across agencies. Research dating back to the early 1900s demonstrated that communities, agencies, and public officials can benefit from sound research. In 1917, the chief of police of Berkeley, California, August Vollmer, partnered with the University of California, Berkeley, in an attempt to improve policing practices and policies. August Vollmer & Albert Schneider, School for Police as Planned at Berkeley, 7 J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 877 (1917). Since then, practitioner−researcher partnerships in law enforcement traditionally have followed either the “critical police research” tradition, which emphasizes independent roles of researchers and finds fault with the police, or the “policy police research” tradition, which emphasizes reforming the police through practical changes. David Bradley & Christine Nixon, Ending the “Dialogue of the Deaf”: Evidence and Policing Policies and Practices. An Australian Case Study, 10 Police Prac. & Res. 423 (2009). The ineffectiveness of such partnerships, see, e.g., What Works in Policing (David H. Bayley ed., 1998); and Wesley G. Skogan & Kathleen Frydl, Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence (2004), however, has led to calls for practitioner−researcher relationships that aim to enhance collaboration, trust, and effective policymaking by making the parties co-producers and beneficiaries of knowledge, see Robin Engel & Samantha Henderson, Beyond Rhetoric: Establishing Academic-Police Collaborations that Work, in The Future of Policing 217 (Jennifer M. Brown ed., 2014); John H. Laub, Director’s Corner: Translational Criminology, Nat’l Inst. Just.; and Laub & Frisch, supra. Practitioner−researcher partnerships can involve (1) individual researchers working with police departments, (2) academic units within universities working with police departments, or (3) collaborations between researchers from multiple academic institutions working with police agencies. Engel & Henderson, supra.
To be effective, policing agencies, researchers, and other government entities must be willing to collaborate throughout the research process. Engel and Whalen list four reasons why police should consult researchers in making important decisions: (1) operational effectiveness and efficiency; (2) external validity; (3) cooperative transparency; and (4) the information technology (IT) revolution. Robin Engel & James Whalen, Police-Academic Partnerships: Ending the Dialogue of the Deaf, the Cincinnati Experience, 11 Police Prac. & Res. 105 (2010). First, research that is publicly available can inform best practices for policing agencies. Second, empirically supported best practices now are necessary for ensuring respect and effectiveness. By working with researchers to improve issues such as compliance with civil-rights requirements and fair treatment, the police can strengthen relations with the public. Cooperative transparency therefore can be useful in establishing procedural justice and police legitimacy, which have been shown to impact officer attitudes and behaviors positively as well. Specifically, research suggests that procedural justice can benefit police officers and the organizational contexts in which they are embedded. See Anthony Bottoms & Justice Tankebe, “A Voice Within”” Power-Holders’ Perspectives on Authority and Legitimacy, in Legitimacy and Criminal Justice: An International Exploration 60 (Justice Tankebe & Alison Liebling eds., 2013); Justice Tankebe, In Their Own Eyes: An Empirical Examination of Police Self-Legitimacy, 43 Int’l J. Comp. & Applied Crim. Just. 99 (2019); and Rick Trinkner, Tom R. Tyler & Phillip Atiba Goff, Justice from within: The Relations between a Procedurally Just Organizational Climate and Police Organizational Efficiency, Endorsement, of Democratic Policing, and Officer Well-Being, 22 Psychol., Pub. Pol’y & L. 158 (2016). Research also has shown that officers who experience procedural justice in their work settings have more positive views of decisions, increased trust in their administrations, and higher job satisfaction, among other positive outcomes. See Christopher Donner et al., Policing and Procedural Justice: A State-of-the-Art Review, 38 Policing 153 (2015). Generally, then, research confirms the idea that police officers who experience self-legitimacy and organizational justice feel and perform better than their counterparts. Finally, technological advancements in data-driven approaches to policy have led policing agencies to benefit from partnering with and seeking assistance from academics, see John H. Laub, Moving the National Institute of Justice Forward: July 2010 thru December 2012, Crime, L. & Deviance News, Spring/Summer 2013, at 1; and John H. Laub has pointed to a number of other benefits of practitioner−researcher partnerships, see John H. Laub, Life Course Research and the Shaping of Public Policy, in 2 Handbook of the Life Course 623 (Michael J. Shanahan et al. eds., 2016). By partnering with researchers, for example, the police gain valuable information and support, and become aware of the usefulness of social science for knowledge creation and application. Laub, Moving the National Institute of Justice Forward, supra. Further, police skepticism of researchers, and researchers’ skepticism of police, are lowered as the two entities learn to work together. Laub, Life Course Research and the Shaping of Public Policy, supra.
Laub and Frisch highlight the importance of partnerships between criminologists and practitioners, for knowledge creation:
[C]riminologists provide theoretical expertise to inform policies as well as knowledge of statistical or methodological techniques to determine the effectiveness of these policies. In exchange, practitioners and policymakers offer insight about the context a program will be implemented within and the organizational constraints of their agencies. Through bidirectional communication, researchers and policymakers can use criminological research to devise effective solutions to relevant problems that are feasible for the agency to implement. In doing so, basic and applied research coalesce toward creating a more effective, fair, and efficient criminal justice system.
Laub & Frisch, supra, at X.
In addition to promoting knowledge creation and sound policing, research also has numerous benefits for social scientists. Participation in practitioner−researcher partnerships not only enhances research, see Engel & Whalen, supra; and Christopher Innes & Ronald Everett, Factors and Conditions Influencing the Use of Research by the Criminal Justice System, 9 W. Criminology Rev. 49 (2008), and accessibility, Engel & Whalen, supra, but it allows researchers to better understand system complexities and decisionmaking processes, Laub & Frisch, supra; and Tonry & Green, supra, allows academics to provide their students with real-world lessons, Engel & Whalen, supra, and can inspire researchers to engage in policy-relevant research, Petersilia, Influencing Public Policy, supra; and Braga, supra, increasing their real-world impact, Engel & Whalen, supra.
Importantly, the effectiveness of policy depends on training and quality assurance. Researchers should consider the needs of agencies in carrying out research on policing. This will require a funding stream that rewards police−researcher partnerships and collaboration between multiple criminal-justice agencies, and a particular need for implementation studies and program/policy evaluation studies. Anthony A. Braga & Marianne Hinkle, Participation of Academics in the Criminal Justice Working Group Process, in New Criminal Justice: American Communities and the Changing World of Crime Control 114 (John Klofas et al. eds., 2010); Peter Orszag, Director, Cong. Budget Office, Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy, Presentation Before the Brookings Institution (Dec. 1, 2014); and Sampson et al., supra.
Although basic science is important in any field, in considering future research, social scientists, especially those interested in partnering with agencies, should consider working toward actionable evidence for agencies interested in promoting sound policing. A number of important recommendations have been proposed to do this, among the most important being the utilization of innovative, cost-effective, and replicable research methods, particularly during times characterized by budget deficits and limited resources; the prioritization of knowledge dissemination in ways that are useful to communities, practitioners, lawmakers, and other researchers; and the execution of randomized, controlled studies and community-based research that considers the perspectives of those most affected by policing.
This will require that practitioners and researchers overcome a number of challenges and concerns relating to time and resource constraints, rigor in research, political issues, and interagency and interdisciplinary collaboration issues, among others. MacDonald’s notion of the “dialogue of the deaf,” Barry MacDonald, Research and Action in the Context of Policing – An Analysis of the Problem and a Programme Proposal (1987) (unpublished manuscript), does well in explaining challenges relating to practitioner−researcher partnerships, including the time-consuming and expensive nature of research, the notion that policymakers often need quick solutions, and the oft politicization of policymaking. See also Nat’l Research Council, Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy (2012); Wesley G. Skogan, The Challenge of Timeliness and Utility in Research and Evaluation, in The New Criminal Justice: American Communities and the Changing World of Crime Control 128 (2010); and Laub, Life Course Research and the Shaping of Public Policy, supra. Engel and Whalen note that “too often the real value of material presented by academia is lost when the tone with which it is presented is received as being either condescending, confusing, or a total reversal of what the police department is currently doing.” Engel & Whalen, supra, at 109. Other issues, such as publishing concerns, Joan Petersilia, Policy Relevance and the Future of Criminology – The American Society of Criminology. 1990 Presidential Address, 29 Criminology 1 (1991); and Petersilia, Influencing Public Policy, supra, and the assumption that close partnerships lead to less objectivity in research can push academics away from research. Finally, there are important interdisciplinary and interagency collaboration issues. Because the causes and consequences of crime are so complex, and because agencies are interdependent on one another, President’s Comm’n on Law Enf’t & Admin. of Just., Task Force Report: Science and Technology: A Report to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1967), effective policy may require collaboration from multiple disciplines and agencies outside of policing (e.g., courts and probation and parole), which requires more time, energy, and resources.
First, a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach to dissemination is needed. Laub & Fisch, supra. Laub and Fisch note that this will require more explicit efforts to disseminate information to policymakers, such as publishing in a diverse range of outlets, and that researchers will need to have a social-media presence and to stay in tune with technological advancements. Laub & Fisch, supra. Researchers should make their research more accessible to the general public. Technical articles and their most important findings should, for instance, be routinely translated into lay language for police chiefs and policymakers at local, state, and federal levels. Laurie O. Robinson, Five Years after Ferguson: Reflecting on Police Reform and What’s Ahead, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 228 (2020).
Theory must also be used to better understand policing and its effects. Sherman, supra; Robinson, supra. As shown in a recent ANNALS volume on police use of force, theory can be used to inform a wide variety of practices ranging from hiring and training to responses to misconduct. 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. (2020). Informing effective policy will require going beyond traditional methods of targeting, testing, and tracking police actions. In addition to using innovative strategies to collect and analyze data, we must also use theory in our movement toward a broader understanding of police fatalities and the systems that produce them. Perhaps most importantly, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can and must work together to improve policing.
In addition, it might be possible to incentivize students, faculty, academic institutions, and agencies to embrace applied research. According to Engel and Henderson, structured collaborations that span multiple universities and police agencies will be most effective at advancing data-driven policy in law enforcement. Engel & Henderson, supra. Finally, collaboration between academia and law enforcement must be prioritized under unique circumstances. Police executives can engage in evidence-based policing by scientifically testing interventions, and academics can engage in rapid research responses for critical issues in policing.
Local, state, and federal governments should support the production of research financially, legislatively, and by engaging in data collection and analysis efforts that promote transparency and centralization. Effective reform requires that research be conducted—and academia−law enforcement relationships be developed in formulating and carrying out research on policing—at local, state, and federal levels. Police chiefs and elected officials at the local level appear to be open to research. Robinson, supra. This is important, as the decentralized nature of policing makes decisionmaking highly local. Barry Friedman & Maria Ponomarenko, Democratic Policing, 90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1827 (2015); and Franklin E. Zimring, Police Killings as a Problem of Governance, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 114 (2020). Local police departments should collect data relating to police attitudes and behaviors, such as use of force, Greg Ridgeway, The Role of Individual Officer Characteristics in Police Shootings, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 58 (2020), and social-network influences, Linda Zhao & Andrew V. Papachristos, Network Position and Police Who Shoot, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 89 (2020). Local governments would also do well in committing to evidence-based legislative changes requiring, for example, improving officers’ social-interaction skills through training, Scott Wolfe et al., Social Interaction Training to Reduce Police Use of Force, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 124 (2020), and mandating rapid hospital transport by police, Sara F. Jacoby, Paul M. Reeping & Charles C. Branas, Police-to-Hospital Transport for Violently Injured Individuals: A Way to Save Lives?, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 186 (2020); Daniel S. Nagin, Firearm Availability and Fatal Police Shootings, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 49 (2020); and Robinson, supra.
Though empirical evidence is needed to determine which policies are effective, states appear to be increasing their involvement in research. Legislation has increasingly supported the implementation of laws regarding de-escalation training, body-worn cameras, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, and the like. Robinson, supra. Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., adopted police-reform legislation between 2015 and 2016, Ram Subramanian & Leah Skrzypiec, Vera Inst. of Just., To Protect and Serve: New Trends in State-Level Policing Reform, 2015–2016 (2017), https://dataspace.princeton.edu/bitstream/88435/dsp01bn999967j/1/041417-PolicingTrendsReport-web.pdf, and at least 16 states have adopted use-of-force policies since 2014, Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures, State Trends in Law Enforcement Legislation: 2014–2017 (2018), http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/state-trends-in-law-enforcement-legislation-2014-2017.aspx. Though legislative changes such as these are important, governors and attorneys general should support legislation that increases state funding and mandates data collection and analysis. State-level actors are in a unique position to coordinate and evaluate police-department policies within their states, and they should use this to their advantage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a national-level policing agency that houses the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the largest statistical reporting effort on policing and crime. Though the FBI does not mandate data collection or audit most UCR data, it has encouraged local police agencies to report important statistics that are available to the public as aggregate monthly tallies of outcomes such as crimes and clearances. Zimring, supra. Another FBI system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), collects more detailed incident-level data on victims, offenders, and crimes at local, state, and federal levels. According to the FBI, the UCR Program has recently partnered with the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the National Crime Statistics Exchange in the hopes of making nationwide implementation of NIBRS possible and transition to a NIBRS-only system.
Major improvements in the funding of science have taken place within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), with the creation of agencies including the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and later the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Robinson, supra. As part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the NIJ and COPS encouraged the National Research Council’s establishment of the Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices, which assesses the state of the research on policing. Nat’l Rsch. Council, Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence (2004). In 2012, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) also demonstrated its commitment to science with its publication of five strategic goals, including the “integration of evidence-based, research-driven strategies into the day-to-day operations of BJA and the programs BJA administers and supports[, and the] increasing program effectiveness with a renewed emphasis on data analysis, information sharing, and performance management.” Bureau of Just. Assistance, BJA Strategic Plan (2012), https://bja.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh186/files/About/BJAStrategicPlan.pdf. The NIJ has devoted federal funds to improve data collection and analysis within and across policing, courts, and corrections programs (e.g., SMART programs, Justice Reinvestment, Violence Reduction Network). Petersilia, Policy Relevance and the Future of Criminology, supra; and Joan Petersilia, California Prison Downsizing and Its Impact on Local Criminal Justice Systems, 8 Harv. L. Pol’y Rev. 327 (2014).
There are a number of challenges that the federal government must address. First and foremost, federal research efforts appear to be dwindling, and a more aggressive federal program of research and statistics on policing may be needed. Robinson, supra. Of further concern is the limiting of financial support to very specific types of research studies, such as randomized controlled trials and studies centered around a specific type of “evidence-based policing.” The formation of evidence-based graduate-school programs and societies of evidence-based policing have furthered this trend, leading to thousands of evidence-based policing researchers. Sherman, supra. While useful, such research privileges internal validity over external validity, and it prevents scientists from exploring basic science and less popular, but potentially important, topics and methods. Finally, the highly decentralized nature of policing in America makes it difficult to promote large-scale, centralized reform at the federal level.
Other public institutions within and outside of the United States can provide recommendations for improving policing research. In a recent interview, Ayanna Howard, a roboticist stationed at Georgia Tech, called on Americans to control police facial-recognition technologies that have been shown to act in ways that disproportionately falsely identify Black Americans (NISTIR 8280). Noam Hassenfeld, Today Explained: How AI Makes Policing More Racist, Vox News (July 2, 2020), https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-ai-makes-policing-more-racist/id1346207297?i=1000481986977. To promote accountability among police departments, Howard suggests creating an institution akin to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for highlighting the costs and benefits of particular drugs and medicines and acts as a centralized system that ensures accountability among companies nationwide. What if police departments were mandated to evaluate and report all benefits and/or costs of police activities and programs before implementing them and promoting them? An FDA-type institution, Howard argues, would allow for the federal government to effectively manage police-department activities, ban policies that are ineffective, and disseminate policies that appear to be effective. It would also promote transparency and the documentation of what may be deemed “acceptable harms.” Calls have also been made by researchers Joy Buolamwini (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Ben Shneiderman (University of Maryland) to create oversight through a crowdsourced “algorithmic bill of rights” or a “National Algorithm Safety Board.” Hassenfeld, supra.
Countries outside of the United States provide models for funding research and managing data collected at local, state, and federal levels. Rather than restricting funding to specific types of studies, topics, and centers, the United States should emulate international research centers, such as the Dutch Research Council (NWO), that fund a wide range of basic and applied scientific research studies, coordinate researchers at various universities and institutes, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and manage databases that are made available to national and international audiences. Zimring recently called for the creation of a Justice Department statistical and research office that would mirror the United Kingdom’s Independent Office for Police Conduct. Zimring, supra. This should be considered.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing called for the tracking and analyzing of data relating to policing changes and their effects. Such data would allow for researchers and practitioners to gain insight into policing changes and their impacts on attitudes, behaviors, and crime. While a number of studies have been done to evaluate police activities and their effects on a number of outcomes within and outside of the United States, the field of policing has yet to examine and attempt to standardize policy changes and recommendations. Time and resource constraints often prevent police agencies from engaging in policy discussions and changes, and the decentralization of police departments causes police departments to have little guidance when developing, implementing, and/or evaluating policy changes. When they are able to implement practical changes, police departments lack the time and effort needed to disseminate their important findings and recommendations. The field of policing would largely benefit from a centralized repository designed to track and disseminate knowledge regarding police practices used by law-enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Such a resource would benefit police departments and researchers seeking guidance on best practices, collaboration, and ways of developing, implementing, and/or evaluating practices. On June 25, 2020, the House and Senate introduced the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020 that would ban federal police agencies from using facial-recognition technologies and require state police departments to ban facial recognition in order to be eligible for specific federal grants. While legislative changes such as these may be beneficial, many other improvements can and should be made. Improving policing will first and foremost require increased funding for collecting and analyzing data across local, state, and federal levels. American policing would largely benefit from legislation that mandates comprehensive and high-quality data reporting, and a centralized database would be particularly useful in promoting best practices and scientific research among researchers and police departments. Further, because policies that have garnered support have modest support at best, Robin S. Engel et al., Moving Beyond “Best Practice”: Experiences in Police Reform and a Call for Evidence to Reduce Officer-Involved Shootings, 687 ANNALS Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 146 (2020); Robinson, supra, rather than restricting research funding to particular types of studies and programs, such as randomized controlled trials that evaluate hotspots policing, the government can and should encourage interdisciplinary and interagency collaborations, and fund and incentivize studies that span a wide variety of methods and topics.