Back to Blogs

09/30/2020




The year 2020 has brought many an unprecedented circumstance. The use of evidence-based policy has become a forefront in decision-making. The COVID-19 pandemic brought drastic changes in every aspect of life. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police brought into question American policing practices. Protests advocating for changes in police use of force, no-knock raids, and calling for the arrests of officers involved in the killing of civilians erupted worldwide. While efforts have focused on retraining and refocusing police officers to reduce racial bias in policing, this blog focuses on the future of policing: today's law enforcement career hopefuls. 
 
I am currently teaching research methods at George Mason University to a class full of undergraduates hoping to work in the criminal justice arena. In this class, we've discussed the importance of methodologically rigorous research and the implications that both good and bad research can have in the field. We have also taken the next steps and explored how research evidence can impact policy and why it is vital to have policy backed by evidence. 
 
Students around the world are the future of our criminal justice and policing systems. They must be taught the importance of evidence-based policing and policy, how to find such evidence using rigorous methods, and how to translate findings to policy implications. While it is essential to begin policy changes and reform now, it is also crucial to educate those who will be the future of our criminal justice system. In this blog, some of my students chose to share their aspirations for the future and how evidence-based policy will play a vitally important role in their careers. 
 
"I would like to begin my career in an investigative position with OIG or the FBI (working hate crimes if it's with the FBI). I would like to begin there to get real world experience. I would like to then transfer into an academic and policy driven role, working with IACP or in politics of some sort (even non-profit).Research methods and evidence-based policy is important to me because I am someone who likes to be fact based and I prefer my decisions be based in facts, which I feel evidence-based research helps to bring to the forefront. I also believe evidence-based policy helps to bring to light issues that might have otherwise been ignored. I would like to stay grounded in evidence-based research and use it in my career to influence decisions I make about policy or how I go about investigations. My main usage of evidence-based policy would be on the policy/reform side of things. It is difficult to argue with research and statistics (even though I know some will try). It's just much more convincing when there are numbers and evidence to back up what you're trying to seek change on."
-Myles Jackson 
 
Beginning in the fieldwork of your interest should also assist in creating policy. The experience gives a real-world view of both sides, to better assist in understanding how policy can be effectively implemented. The onus of policy change is not solely on police organizations; policymakers must also understand how to create a strategy that is practical in implementation. Just writing policy into existence is not a panacea, either; if those policies are not implemented or enforced, what difference do they make? Having people who have worked in the field and on the research/policy side of policing is an essential part of a smooth transition to policy change and reform. 
 
"My career goal is to be a criminal psychologist. Research methods and evidence-based policy is a huge and primary part of being a psychologist. Being a criminal psychologist requires a ton of research due to the fact that a huge part of the job is conducting experiments, collecting surveys, and having focus groups. Especially when asked to provide an expert testimony, I need to have my research done well and backed up by evidence."
-Research Methods Student 
 
Working with offenders in the criminal justice system requires a lot of research. As an emerging expert who may one day provide testimony in court, this student understands the importance of evidence. Expert testimony is often considered a crucial part of high-profile court cases. The decision to take away someone's liberty as a result of an offense is not to be taken lightly. Evidence and research play a substantial role in expert testimony. Understanding the difference between quality, rigorous research, and sub-par research is crucial when involved in the court process, especially as an actor assisting in determining a verdict. 
 
"Currently I am studying Criminology B.A with a minor in intelligence analysis and a concentration in homeland security. I wish to commission as an infantry officer un the US Army because I took a liking to it when I first enlisted. After my military career, I wish to work in an office setting continuing in either law enforcement or the intelligence field. Finally, I wish to eventually work behind a desk for the local sheriff's department. Evidence based policy and research are important because in order to conduct general, field, or even company sized movements one must know what they are getting into. That being said, in order to implement how long US troops should stay, what objectives should be taken, and what groups to be aligned with, evidenced based policies are a necessity in order to save lives and complete goals. Different terrorist groups need to be researched on ideologies, tactics, and history in order to better predict future outcomes. Intelligence organizations, particularly the federal ones like the CIA and DEA, are experts in information gathering and intelligence producing. I enjoy this field because there is never enough to know. The more you know the better one can react and prepare. The world has so much information, but it depends on the person behind the desk to know how to utilize it. I hope to maximize the efficiency of whichever organization I work with."
-Oliver E Guox
 
Whether in the military or federal law enforcement, a large or small police agency, evidence-based policy is essential to both officers and civilians' safety. An evidence-based policy can assist in reducing and eliminating stereotypes about individuals, groups, and places, and enable the police to operate more effectively and efficiently. The importance of evidence-based policing cannot be understated, especially now. 
 
The future of law enforcement agencies, crime experts, and even homeland security lies in the next generation of police officers, federal agents, and clinical practitioners. Students and young people are more than well aware of the changes that need to be made, and they have their eyes on the example that we will set. As evidence-based policing advocates, we must continue to push for evidence-backed policy and changes within law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Evidence-based policing is more important than ever. It is the first of many steps to positive changes within the law enforcement community.


Heather Prince is a current PhD student at George Mason University. She obtained her Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018, and has both field and research experience in policing. She currently works as a research assistant for ASEBP as well as the Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, and teaches undergraduate courses.