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Good news for police research in Canada


September 3, 2014
By Robert Lunney

Since the 1990’s, when austerity budget cuts eliminated a research unit in the then Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada, policing has laboured on without the benefit of an objective central research capacity to guide progress and share information.

Responsibility fell to the CACP to fill the gap through the formation of a research foundation but progress stalled for lack of funding. In 2012 the CACP board stepped up to fulfill the foundation’s objective by re-constituting its board of directors. The mission is to create and develop the highest standards of effectiveness in law enforcement by fostering and encouraging research.

A survey of police research needs culminated in a November 2012 summit meeting in Vancouver to assemble a list of priorities. The foundation published the Canadian Police Executive Research Agenda in March 2014, a comprehensive report that identifies needs and priorities.

Available on the CACP web site, the agenda clearly established that Canada’s police require relevant, evidence-based research that will:

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  1. Lead to better decision-making. Today’s police leaders work in an increasingly complex environment and require access to authoritative, reliable and time sensitive research in order to make informed decisions.

  2. Promote a broad approach to problem solving. Police leaders encounter problems and issues closely linked to community safety, health, housing and social service matters. Police require access to research from a broad range of experts to assist in developing strategies and solutions to problems.

  3. Advance the profession of policing. Each generation of police leaders must add to the body of evidence-based research passed on to successors. This is how a profession develops and matures.

Based on the summit’s facilitated discussion and in-depth assessment, six priority issues were identified that form the agenda. While no ranking is assigned, highlights are presented below.

  1. {Human resources}
    Police leaders identified a number of key issues, including leadership development, impact of the changing face of society and civilianization of roles traditionally assigned to sworn officers.

  2. {Funding & financing}
    A clear priority for police – both today and in the years ahead. Police leaders seek to understand with greater nuance and clarity what is driving the cost of policing and how to evaluate benefits to the community.

  3. {Community engagement}
    Building stronger relationships with the communities we serve is a priority. A number of key issues came to the foreground including how the public wants to engage with police, how we may communicate more effectively and how we help the public understand the full range of what we do, the challenges we face and the difference we make.

  4. {Operations}
    Operational issues were seen as being critically important. Police leaders must focus on developing strategies to quickly adapt to new types of crimes and other issues surfacing in an ever-changing society. Specifically, we are concerned about the following questions:

• How do we capture knowledge (e.g., gained from major events) and exchange best practices with one another? How can our learning be improved?
• How do we best identify, share and use research that has already been conducted?

Police leaders are focused on creating a continuously learning community, benefiting from the experiences of others and not duplicating efforts.

  1. {Impact of technology}
    This obvious and on-going issue was discussed in different terms including operations, impact of social media, affect on budgets, changing nature of crime and investigations and the need for far-reaching coordinated efforts to address these concerns. Another issue was the need for more practical laws and legislation to allow police to effectively investigate technology-centric crimes.

  2. {Policing models}
    Police leaders know that as the context and needs change, so too must policing. Challenges exist with respect to the changes required and their impact. As a result, police leaders are asking important and essential questions:

• How do we quantify different models (e.g., tiered and community policing)?
• What are the metrics and outcomes of new community policing models?
• Is there a common definition of “core policing”? Is it changing and if so, how?
• What is the best community investment strategy to reduce crime and disorder and the draw on police resources?

{Police research portal and catalogue}

The board identified a pressing need for an open and easily searchable catalogue of police research. An offer at this critical point from Public Safety Canada (PSC) to create a portal and catalogue on government servers was readily accepted.

The next step was a canvas of CACP members requesting a sample of recent police research to enable the PSC librarians to begin gathering and cataloguing the material for easy retrieval. They began the task in January 2014 and are now well on the way to meeting their objective.

While there is much to be done on establishing procedures and obtaining the necessary authority to reproduce information, a soft launch of the portal and catalogue are tentatively scheduled to occur before the end of the year. This is excellent news and a credit to the collaborative spirit established between the ministry and police community.

Working together, we are confident this project will provide a helpful source of innovative materials for the benefit of professional policing and the citizens we serve.

BIO

Robert Lunney is a member of the CACP Research Foundation Board of Directors.