Using research to improve policing performance

Policing has a quandary. With a limited budget, with never enough resources or enough time to do everything asked of it, it also has to keep everyone happy all the time. It is scrutinised from every direction, via formal performance metrics and the court of public opinion. It is then hampered by a play it safe insularity which means it is often risk averse to adapt and change. To make matters worse, is often ill-advised by academic researchers who make a living out of policing but never help it improve.

You can hardly blame busy police professionals for being somewhat risk averse given the critical mauling they can get when things go wrong, but unfortunately you can’t stand still in a changing world, even if it gives the illusion of temporal safety.

Policing exploitation

Academic researchers often feed off policing in order to help them with their own metrics, which is publishing their writing (their publication rate rather than an arrest rate), and often this is nothing at all to do with improving policing. Many of those researchers know very little about applied policing although they often seek to portray to practitioners that they know best.

That creates a perfect storm for the worst outcomes. When researchers have stripped out what they want to satisfy their own needs, policing is left picking up the pieces when things go wrong, and end up often no further forward. 

This creates a dilemma for policing leaders, who may well feel like throwing the baby out with the bath water by pushing away all research to one side, to just try to focus on practical day to day performance.

The Knowledge Economy

The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. Some diligent but progressive police leaders can interface with researchers who authentically seek to apply existing knowledge, or discover new knowledge, to directly help improve policing. That is possible, but it is rare.

Jonathan Grant, former Vice-President at King’s College, London, articulated a vision in 2021 for how academic researchers should operate to genuinely stimulate a dynamic and growing knowledge economy. The reality is many academics talk abut this, but few actually deliver.

So whilst it is possible to get relevant research to improve policing performance in the real world, you need to careful not to get hoodwinked by an opportunistic market out there. Having found the right partnership, the issue is often not so much a lack of data but a lack of will, and a spirit of enterprise. When a collaborative space for co-problematisation and co-production is found, great things can happen.

If you do what you did before, you will get what you got before. If you wish to improve, you need to evolve. You can sharpen your chances of effective evolvement through relevant research: it gives you the edge.

EMPAC consultancy is straight to the point

EMPAC is pretty unique in that it understands policing and it understands academia; and the warts and all in both. Its focus though is positive: it’s all about the continual improvement and alignment of a genuine effort to apply and expose new ways relevant to policing in order to improve performance. EMPAC can be trusted to work with sensitive data and client discrete needs because it is security cleared, unlike other traditional research centres within universities.

EMPAC is highly experienced in working with all aspects of policing having delivered successful projects on performance effectiveness, community consultation, organised crime, internal training, diversity, neighbourhood policing, safeguarding, prevention, custody, investigation, trust and confidence and repeat offending.

If you want to see how EMPAC can help you then contact Dr John Coxhead at If you are within any part of East Midlands policing or security, EMPAC’s work is free for you; if you are outside the EM region then a consultancy arrangement can be brokered. You can be assured of no-nonsense straight talking aimed at supporting policing performance: nothing more, nothing less.


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