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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 20

Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the 20th issue of the SEBP newsletter. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.

Gunshot Detection Device in a Chicago street
Gunshot Detection System Source: Salisburymistake, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Forecasting for Police Officer Safety: A Demonstration of Concept by Brittany Cunningham, James Coldren, Benjamin Carleton, Richard Berk and Vincent Bauer 

Answering calls for service is inherently risky and response officers are often put in harm’s way. Call handlers professionals are responsible for extracting critical details from callers, assessing the risks, and transmitting such information clearly to responding police units. Consequently, they have a huge role in shaping officers’ perceptions of risk when responding to calls. However they are not immune to fatigue, overload, and questionable judgments that can influence their assessments of risk. In addition, callers will sometimes provide incorrect and confusing information. This study, published in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence Based Policing, provides a demonstration of concept for how machine learning procedures can be properly used to forecast the amount of risk associated with each dispatch to help improve officer safety. Researchers teamed up with Camden County Police Department in New Jersey to evaluate whether machine learning forecasts of police officer risks to would improve the information extracted from 911 calls and the quality of subsequent dispatches. They analysed every 911 call for service from January 1, 2015 until, December 31, 2019 and used data from 1928 calls involving weapons offences to develop a machine learning algorithm to forecast the risk that responding officers will face. Using information that is routinely available, the researchers were able to produce interpretable and technically defensible forecasts of risk for police officers responding to a dispatch. Compared to current practice at the study site, researchers were able to forecast with a useful level of accuracy the risk for police officers responding to calls for service. For approximately a quarter of a holdout sample of 100 calls, a forecast of high risk was correct with the odds of at least 3 to 1. For approximately another quarter of the holdout sample, a forecast of low risk was correct with an odds of at least 3 to 1. For remaining cases, insufficiently reliable forecasts were identified. Although the study is a first attempt, it shows improved forecasting of the risks when responding to calls for service,and thus the introduction of more effective and timely safety measures, is possible.

Existing understanding of geographic profiling principles within UK policing by Susanne Knabe-Nicol and Laurence Alison

Geographic profiling (GP), which uses temporal and spatial information to suggest how, where and when an offender can best be caught, is a valuable tool in criminal investigations. This is done for instance by identifying the movements of offenders and victims before, during and after an offence, as well as temporal and spatial patterns in offending. The resulting information can often help in determining how familiar the offender is likely to have been with the victim and the area, which can assist in focusing lines of inquiry. Furthermore, geographic profilers aim to identify how the offender targeted, chose, and attacked their victim(s). This in turn may inform investigative strategies in terms of how and where to deploy surveillance, initiate decoy operations, conduct house-to-house enquiries, appeal for information, conduct DNA screens, and focus search efforts, amongst other things. However budget cuts mean the vast majority of police investigations in the UK do not receive the assistance of a specialist geographic profiler. This pilot study was conducted to ascertain just how big a void is left by this lack of specialist knowledge and what can be done to fill it. Gaining an insight into police officers’ geographic considerations is essential, as the overwhelming majority of investigations do not incorporate the services of a geographic profiler, meaning that it is up to the police to recognise, interpret and then utilise spatial and temporal information to understand an offender’s geographic decision-making process. For the purpose of the study a case simulation was carried out. Three geographic profilers, four detective constables and four probationary police constables were given three documents relating to a real-life investigation of a series of arsons and asked for their thought processes. Both the quantity of investigative statements made as well as their content and quality were scrutinised. The results showed while a number of GP principles are already being applied in some measure within the police, some of the fundamental yet in-depth processes were lacking, which meant evidential opportunities risked being lost. The study, published in Cogent Social Sciences, called for more targeted interventions to enable officers to enhance their GP skills, which could lead to solving cases that would have previously gone unsolved.

Police leaders as role models in feedback-seeking: How police leaders’ negative feedback seeking encourages, reinforces, and enables their followers’ negative feedback-seeking by Anastasiia Lynnyk and Andrea Fischbach

In times of rapid change, leaders and followers must constantly improve, learn from mistakes, and become more adaptive and proactive. However in the police, the fear of being accused of misconduct means mistakes are often concealed or covered up, hindering professional development. This study, published in Police Practice and Research, proposes a positive relationship between leaders’ negative feedback seeking and their followers’ negative feedback seeking, such that if leaders model openness and feedback seeking and learn from what they are told about their behaviours, their followers will do the same. Moreover, the researchers proposed the best leaders would be those who actively solicited critical information from all their followers indiscriminately to signal their followers that this behavior is accepted and welcomed. A group of 30 leaders and their followers in two German police departments were surveyed on their negative feedback seeking behaviour. Leaders were assigned a score depending on how discriminately they they sought feedback. The data was analysed using hierarchical regression analysis. The results showed that the negative feedback seeking of leaders and how indiscriminate they were significantly predicted the negative feedback seeking of their followers such that the more leaders seek negative feedback from their followers, the more their followers seek negative feedback from them. This relationship is stronger for leaders who sought negative feedback from all of their followers indiscriminately. The researchers suggested that authentic leaders open to criticism should be encouraged and promoted and learning around seeking feedback should be encouraged in order to improve standards and culture in the police.

Staggered deployment of gunshot detection technology in Chicago, IL: a matched quasi-experiment of gun violence outcomes by Nathan T. Connealy, Eric L. Piza, Rachael A. Arietti, George O. Mohler, and Jeremy G. Carter

In recent years, police have come to privilege technological approaches to crime prevention. However, research has generated mixed findings on the level to which technology achieves intended public safety goals. Despite limited evidence on its effectiveness in reducing crime, a number of forces are trying to prevent fatal shootings using Gunshot Detection Technology (GDT) which uses acoustic sensors that detect sounds from firearm muzzle blasts that can be audibly distinguished from other loud noises. This study examines potential GDT effects across a target area in Chicago between 2012 and 2018. The study included the simultaneous examination of several gun violence outcomes of interest that may be impacted by GDT, such as fatal shootings, non-fatal shootings, general gun crimes, shots fired calls for service, and gun recoveries. The analyses quantitatively measured changes in associated metrics across pre- and post-GDT time periods using a quasi-experimental design with an empirically derived control group through synthetic control matching techniques. The approach ensures that GDT target areas are effectively matched to approximately equivalent control areas for comparison. The unique GDT deployment phases in Chicago were then evaluated for aggregate, initial and expanded, and phase-specific treatment effects using difference-in-difference analyses. Results demonstrate that GDT had limited crime prevention effects in that it did not significantly impact fatal shootings, non-fatal shootings, or shots fired calls for service. There were procedural benefits in terms of improved response times and increased gun recovery, but the researchers suggested even the seemingly positive increases in gun recoveries may lead to contentious community relations if residents perceive GDT as a justification for overly enforcement-centric approaches. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology concluded law enforcement agencies seeking crime prevention or reduction solutions may be better served by investing in other options.

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