Updated: Aug 31
Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the 13th issue of the SEBP newsletter. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.
Police agencies globally have been facing a crisis of legitimacy in recent years. Across the West in particular there has been public outcry and protest against against excessive use of force and aggressive policing of minority and disadvantaged communities, especially for minor offences. Modern styles of aggressive policing are argued to be underpinned by a ‘warrior cop’ orientation, a style of policing which sees officers as metaphorical soldiers on the front lines of an endless battle to preserve order and protect the community against criminality, with the use of righteous violence justified to achieve these ends. It has been suggested that transforming officers from ‘warrior cops’ to ‘guardian officers’, who seek to encourage public engagement, foster trust and build lasting community partnerships, would encourage more democratic, less coercive, and more inclusive policing practices. This study, published in Police Quarterly, is the first of its kind to examine, outside the US, whether having a warrior or a guardian mindset influences use of force attitudes, threat perceptions and tactical decision-making. The researchers surveyed 183 Australian police officers on their attitudes about the role of police and the use of force, and showed them two police body worn video (BWV) clips of ambiguous threat situations (a corner shop robbery and a person suffering a mental health crisis) to elicit officers’ perceptions and decision-making in response to real-world scenarios. They used linear regression analysis to examine characteristics of officers who endorsed guardian and warrior orientations. They found officers with a higher guardian orientation were less likely to hold positive attitudes towards use of force, were more likely to endorse de-escalation in citizen encounters (though those with the warrior mindset endorsed de-escalation also), and were more likely to see a greater immediacy of threat in the first ambiguous threat scenario, though there was no difference between attitudes in the second. They suggested adopting a guardian policing orientation could be a useful model for re-orienting Australian policing toward a less coercive, more inclusive model of policing.
Patrolling the Largest Drug Market on the Eastern Seaboard: A Synthetic Control Analysis on the Impact of A Police Bicycle Unit by Daniel S. Lawrence
Policing currently faces two major challenges, increasing legitimacy while tackling a rise in violent crime. It has been argued that increasing use of bicycle patrols will enable officers to do both, by making officers more accessible to the public than they would be in vehicles while allowing them them to act as capable guardians over a wider area than that afforded to them by foot patrol. In 2021 police in Philadelphia introduced a bicycle patrol unit with the aim of disrupting crime in an area known as the largest open-air drug market in eastern United States. This study, published in Criminology & Public Policy, explored the impact of the unit on crime levels through a synthetic control method analysis, using data from two years before and two years after the intervention. It found that the bicycle patrol unit led to a notable reduction in anti-social behaviour, prostitution and increased police-activities to arrest drug offenders and remove drugs from the streets. However, the unit also resulted in a significant increase in the number of drug and violent offences. The total amount of crime remained unchanged. The study suggests bicycle patrols can effectively reduce street-level disorder but, by disrupting the normal operation of drug markets, they can lead to increased violence from instability in the street-level drug business. The author suggested the impact of this disruption could have been anticipated with better analysis and intelligence gathering - so that steps could have been taken to hold and build communities once they had been cleared of the incumbent drug gang, and so prevent a vacuum being left for others to take over.
Describing the scale and composition of calls for police service. A replication and extension using open data by
Samuel Langton, Stijn Ruiter, Tim Verlaan
In recent years austerity coupled with a rising tide of protests triggered by police treatment of Black people has led to calls to rethink, and in some cases, radically reform, the role and reach of contemporary police. However carrying out such drastic changes without first understanding the scale and composition of public demand for the police, and without preemptively providing appropriate substitutes, could put huge pressures on other parts of the public sector, making the problems the reform seeks to address worse rather than better. This study is the first to carry out an analysis of demand using open data and open code, opening up analyses for scrutiny, reuse, and extension by the public, academics, and/or police practitioners. It also seeks to add robustness to recent research by Ratcliffe (2021) and Lum et al. (2021) by extending and replicating their studies. Drawing on their methodologies, it uses descriptive statistics and a treemap graphic, as well as visualizations, to provide an account of the scale and composition and spatial and temporal patterning of police demand in Detroit in 2019. The study, published in Police Practice and Research, shows that just 51 per cent of the total deployed time responding to 911 calls is consumed by crime incidents. The remainder is spent on quality of life (16 per cent), traffic (15 per cent), health (7 per cent), community (5 per cent), and proactive (4 per cent) duties. A small number of incidents consume a disproportionately large amount of police officer time. Emergency demand is concentrated in time and space, and can differ between types of demand. The findings are further data-driven evidence to suggest that the police indeed spend considerable time dealing with incidents in a social rather than solely crime-fighting capacity. This has implications to and beyond policing practice. The findings directly contribute to the fierce and politically charged debates around the role and responsibilities of police officers in contemporary society.
Using A Randomised Controlled Trial to Test the Effectiveness of A Simplified Notice of Police Bail by Alex Gyani, Nathan Chappell, Lance Tebbutt and Simon Williams
Court non-attendance is a widespread problem in New Zealand, where roughly 15 per cent of defendants who are released on police bail fail to attend court, which wastes time and resources and puts extra pressure on already stretched system. It has been suggested that part of this failure to attend is caused by the fact that citizens have inadequate understanding of what is required of them due in part to the complexity of the forms received. This intervention sought to test whether using a simplified notice of police bail using principles from behavioural science might increase attendance at court. The simplified notice reduced the required reading age of the front page by 2 years and included a clear call to action and simplified information. Researchers rolled the notice out across six police stations in New Zealand and tested the impact with a cluster randomised controlled trial (n = 1542, with clustering by custody officer). They also conducted interviews with defendants and staff, and conducted a survey with staff, to gain additional insights into the barriers to court attendance. results suggest the simplified notice increased court attendance by 3.6 percentage points. If scaled throughout New Zealand, this would translate to around 1400 more defendants attending court each year due to the new notice. The qualitative findings also highlight a number of barriers to attendance not addressed by the simplified notice, including transport barriers, childcare barriers, and waiting times at court. The study, published in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing, suggests that "nudges" such as simplifying notices, while useful, are not a panacea. Instead they should be seen as a tool among others and more should be done to address transport barriers, provide support to those with childcare responsibilities and improve scheduling systems to encourage attendance.