This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Society for Evidence Based Policing

I want to write a brief blog about this organisation and encourage you become a member: membership is free. The society has three aims:
  1. Increased use of best available research evidence to solve policing problems
  2. The production of new research evidence by police practitioners and researchers
  3. Communication of research evidence to police practitioners and the public
You can of course find out far more about the society on their website. As someone who has been talking about the importance and application of evidence based practice to policing since before the turn of the century, I would like to do all in my power to promote this organisation. This blog is part of that plan.

But why is evidence based practice so important?

Many years ago, a Hungaarian doctor called Ignaz Semmelweis was practising medicine in Vienna. Through careful experimentation and observation, he discovered that the incidence of a particularly nasty fever that killed many mothers after they had given birth could be reduced. Without really knowing why (the work of Louis Pasteur's and Joseph Lister was to come some years later), Semmelweis discovered in 1847 that if doctors washed their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime before tending to mothers in labour, mortality on the wards dropped dramatically.

However, his research was dismissed as being incompatible with the 'received wisdom' of his seniors. His ideas were rejected and many doctors were offended at the idea that their hand washing (or rather absence of it) could, in effect, kill their patients.

In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed.

Evidence based practice is so important because so often, 'received wisdom' is not only incorrect but possibly downright dangerous. The move towards evidence based medicine began many years ago. It then became evidence based practice in the wider sense and through the use of clinical governance in the NHS, all clinicians and other staff are constantly asking the question: "what is evidence base for that practice / assertion / policy etc etc."

The police service need to do this more, in my opinion. How many policing practices have been experimentally tested to see if they actually work? 

Would you expect to go to your GP and on being asked why she was prescribing a pill for you, told you that few other senior GPs had got together and judged that it would probably be OK? Or would you rather be told that the pill had been through extensive research using placebo and controlled trials and had been shown to work?

Do you expect the same of operational police practice? I hope so since life and death decisions can also be made... This is what evidence based practice is all about. This is why it is important. Without evidence, policing practice can be easily challenged by just another opinion.

Of course I cannot leave this subject without suggesting that you scrutinise the draft Policing and Crime plan produced by your PCC as to whether it is based on any evidence, even experimental or social research evidence. Or is it perhaps based on a set of assertions which have no evidential base whatsoever. Go on, I dare you to have a look! You may find yourself shuddering or even laughing in that hollow way as you express one OMG after another....

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