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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP

Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the main newsletter. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.

Published research

Productivity and Teamwork: Crew Size Effects in Policing by Tom Kirchmaier, Stephen Machin, Matteo Sandi, Rob Witt

This study from the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics examined the causal impact on having either one or two officers in a police car responding to a crime. Focusing on a large English police force, the team studied the effect the number of officers dispatched to an incident had on police productivity, measured by the likelihood of naming a suspect and the likelihood that an emergency call results in an arrest, advice or task being completed. The researchers exploited the introduction of a so called ‘Banded Pattern’ in one large force which boosted deployment in Response Teams in May 2018. This led to a 65 per cent increase in the likelihood of double-crewing in response to emergency calls. When two officers were co-dispatched, the likelihood that one or more named suspects were identified for a criminal offence increases by 112 per cent, and the likelihood of an arrest or positive outcome increases by 23 per cent. These productivity gains could be explained by the fact that when co-dispatched, officers are more likely to attend violent incidents and they spend longer time on the incident scene. While they appear equally likely to be assaulted, they are less likely to get injured. Moreover, having two officers ending a scene rather than one means that teams can be more diverse, either through sex, race or experience, ultimately leading to a better service to the public.

Face-to-Face Communication in Organisations, by Diego Battiston, Jordi Blanes i Vidal, Tom Kirchmaier

This study proves for the first time that there is a positive causal link between the ability to communicate with colleagues face to face and team productivity. Published in the Review of Economic Studies, It took advantage of a natural experiment in a large police force between 2008 and 2012, whereby workers in charge of answering emergency calls and allocating officers to incidents were sometimes co-located. This meant that as well as using electronic communication channels, they also had the option to speak face to face. Both these roles rely on speed and accuracy, to maximise the number of calls answered and ensure the right resources are dispatched quickly. The researchers found that when call handlers and radio operators communicated in person they dealt faster with the most serious incidents, meaning there were marked decreases in response times and increases in the likelihood of a suspect being detained. This improvement did not affect the quality of the response or of other calls arriving at the same time. The study found that while the ability to communicate face-to-face improves the performance of the receiver of this communication, in this case the radio operator, this came at a time cost to the sender, in this case the call handler. However researchers were aware of these costs and benefits and were able to choose their communication style based on the seriousness and complexity of the incident and the benefit it would bring. In a time when the police service finds itself in the middle of a remote working experiment, this study provides an insight into the best way of facilitating communication between colleagues in high pressure environments.

Policing and Management, by Max Kapustin, Terrence Neumann and Jens Ludwig

Policing is going through a crisis of confidence on both sides of the Atlantic, as high profile scandals, evidence of racial bias and murders carried out by serving police officers erode public trust. Previous research to address the causes of this loss of legitimacy have focused on the outcomes of police resources and policies on various policing outcomes. This study from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, chose to focus, not on what police departments aim to do or the resources they have, but how they do it. Significantly it identified the key role of management – which covers not just whether leaders follow best practices, but whether they could hire, train, promote and communicate with officers effectively. The research sought to determine how variability in police management across and within cities gave rise to variability in police outcomes – particularly around murders and civilians killed by police. It focused on 50 of the largest departments in the US between 2010 and 2019. It then examined policing outcomes within different districts in Chicago over a period of 12 to 17 years, before focusing on a period of management change in Chicago Police. It found that variations in violent crime were linked to variations in leadership tenure and that management changes could be a low-cost way not only to improve policing outcomes, but to ensure that police act legitimately and with accountability. Moreover it suggests that had Chicago introduced the data-driven management practices that New York and Los Angeles brought in under William Bratton over the past three decades, there would have been 2,500 fewer murder victims in the city.



Understanding the Use of Digital Forensics in Policing in England and Wales: An Ethnographic Analysis of Current Practices and Professional Dynamics, by Dana Wilson-Kovacs, Brian Rappert and Sabina Leonelli

Digital evidence can reveal a suspect’s intent to commit an offence and help establish when events occurred, where victims and suspects were and with whom they communicated. Yet, in recent years the volume of cases requiring digital forensic analysis and the amount of information to be processed in each case have risen rapidly, leaving law enforcement agencies struggling to address this demand. This four-year project, funded by the ESRC and carried out by a team from the University of Exeter, seeks to provide an analysis of the digital forensic resources, practices and expertise currently providing intelligence of ongoing investigations. It aims to discover how digital evidence can be used most effectively to detect crime, while at the same time preserving human rights and ensuring victims and the wrongly accused are protected. The research team is working with digital forensics practitioners, police officers and other stakeholders to examine operational procedures and dependencies, professional tensions and regulatory dynamics. Recent outputs from the project include an examination of how officers investigating indecent images of children deal with this material and manage their own sense of occupational identity and how this can be affected by working environments. The project is set to conclude in June 2022.

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