How Can Embedded Criminologists, Police Pracademics, and Crime Analysts Help Increase Police-Led Program Evaluations? A Survey of Authors Cited in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix

Piza, E., Szkola, J and Blount-Hill, K. (2021)

Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 15(12): 1217-1231

Key Takeaways

  • Lack of support from leadership and mid-level managers identified as most damaging factors to police research
  • Crime analysts identified as easiest to incorporate into program evaluation efforts
  • Embedded criminologists identified as having the strongest research and evaluation skills
  • Police pracademics identified as best equipped to explain research results to practitioners
  • Overall, survey responses indicate embedded criminologists, police pracademics, and crime analysts may each have a unique (and important) role in police-led science

Research Summary

Evidence-based policing relies on rigorous program evaluation to catalog “what works” in crime control and prevention. Program evaluation has traditionally been considered the responsibility of academic researchers.  Scholars have recently called for the field to move more towards a model of police-led science, in which police are empowered to conduct research and disseminate findings throughout the field.

Three entities have emerged as potential avenues for increasing police capacity to conduct rigorous program evaluations: embedded criminologists, police pracademics, and crime analysts. Embedded criminologists are outside academic researchers who take an active role in the day-to-day routine of the police, typically spending at least a portion of their time on-site at the agency.  Police pracademics are active police officers who have received the necessary (typically graduate level) academic research training to lead research projects. Crime analysts are police department staff members who systematically analyze data to provide information to police commanders to make policing more efficient and effective.

The aim of this study was to explore the relative strengths of these three entitles in terms of increasing police capacity to conduct program evaluations. We explored these issues through a survey of scholars who authored or co-authored one or more studies included in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix (https://cebcp.org/evidence-based-policing/the-matrix/), a research translation tool that organizes evaluations of police interventions. The survey was sent to the 146 study authors with active email addresses. 83 of the 146 (57%) authors completed the survey.

Respondents identified lack of support from police leadership and mid-level managers as the most damaging factors to police research. The two least damaging factors were lack of police personnel proficient in research and competing goals and incentive structures of academics and police.

Respondents identified crime analysts as the easiest to incorporate into program evaluation activities and embedded criminologists as the most difficult. Embedded criminologists were identified as having the strongest research ability and crime analysts the weakest. Police pracademics were identified as best able to translate research for practitioner audiences. Embedded criminologists and crime analysts were considered equally capable in this task.

Open-ended responses suggested; (1) while respondents looked at embedded criminologists positively, they were skeptical of their ability to drive internal change within police agencies; (2) police pracademics can be a driving force in research translation but may lack the technical skills to lead program evaluations; (3) crime analysts have high levels of technical expertise but may not be positioned to drive change because of their general lack of status within police agencies. The overall findings suggest embedded criminologists, police pracademics, and crime analysts each have an important, distinct role to play in police-led science. The benefits to police-led science can be maximized by expanding training opportunities for crime analysts, entrusting police pracademics to develop an agency’s research agenda, and incorporating embedded criminologists within an action research framework to expose crime analysts and police pracademics to rigorous program evaluation activities.

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