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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 7

After two Global Conference special editions, normal service has resumed on the SEBP newsletter so the blog is back. Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the seventh issue. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.

Police stops to reduce crime: A systematic review and meta-analysis by Kevin Petersen, David Weisburd, Sydney Fay, Elizabeth Eggins, Lorraine Mazerolle Stop and search is one of the most widely used crime prevention techniques, and also one of the most controversial. Police stops are associated with reductions in crime but also a broad range of negative individual-level outcomes, such as damage to mental and physical health, poor attitudes toward police, and increased delinquency. This Campbell systematic review examines police-initiated pedestrian stops on both place-based and person-based outcomes. Kevin Petersen and others scrutinised 40 eligible studies, mainly from the USA and Europe. They found the evidence suggests police stop interventions do reduce crime at an area level, and also saw a diffusion of crime control benefits to nearby areas. However, they found stop and search may produce more harm than good. Individuals stopped by police are associated with significantly higher odds of both mental and physical health issues, significantly more negative attitudes toward the police, and elevated levels of self-reported crime or delinquency. Young people especially suffer from negative mental health outcomes as a result. Furthermore, there was no evidence that improving officer behaviour reduces the harm caused by stops. The researchers instead recommended other tactics such as hot spot policing and problem oriented policing, which demonstrate larger reductions in crime without similar backfire effects.

Criminal charges, risk assessment and violent recidivism in cases of domestic abuse by Dan A. Black, Jeffrey Grogger, Tom Kirchmaier and Koen Sanders Domestic abuse is a pervasive global problem. Roughly one-third of women will experience physical or sexual violence by a partner at some point during their lives. As well as the huge cost to the health and wellbeing of victims and their children, it can have wider economic consequences. This discussion paper from the LSE examines the effectiveness of two interventions initiated by the police and aimed at reducing violent reoffending. The first is charging the perpetrator with an offence. The second is providing protective services to victims assessed to be at high risk of serious recidivism, such as through the the Domestic Abuse, Stalking, Harassment, and Honour-Based (DASH) violence risk assessment model and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC). Using data from Greater Manchester Police, the team estimated the average effect of treatment on the treated using inverse propensity score weighting (IPW). They then made use of causal forests to study heterogeneity in the estimated treatment effects. The researchers found charging offenders with a criminal offence reduces violent recidivism in DA cases by about 5 percentage points. That amounts to almost a 40 percent reduction relative to the mean recidivism rate. At the same time the researchers found, despite the resources devoted to the risk assessment process, they could find no evidence that it reduces violent recidivism.

Can a police-delivered intervention improve children’ online safety? A cluster randomised controlled trial on the effect of the “ThinkUKnow” programme in primary and secondary Australian schools by Tony Alderman, Barak Ariel and Vincent Harinam The ThinkUKnow programme, which aims to prevent cyber abuse, has been delivered to hundreds of thousands of children globally since 2006. However little research has been done into its effectiveness. This cluster randomised control trial published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology seeks to fill this gap. The programme consists of one face-to-face classroom-based training session carried out in Australian primary and secondary schools and delivered by at least one uniformed member of the Australian Federal Police. The researchers tested the effect of the programme under controlled conditions, observing variations between children in years 5 − 6 (aged 10-12) and in 7 − 8 (12-14) in terms of multiple dimensions targeted by the training. Post-test surveys from nearly 2000 students were used to estimate the treatment effect. Tony Alderman, Barak Ariel and Vincent Harinam found that exposure to the programme significantly improves knowledge about cyber abuse but only had marginal impacts on risk perceptions, engagement with risky behaviours, or willingness to report cyber abuse to adults or others. Those who had the treatment were more likely to report to the police, and perceptions of police legitimacy were improved amongst younger students, but not amongst older ones. Interestingly, the researchers found the programme does not cause a meaningful backfiring effect such as in the scared-straight programme.

Covid-19 and Future Threats: A Law Enforcement Delphi Study by Dr Manja Nikolovska and Professor Shane D Johnson The NPCC commissioned the Dawes Centre at UCL to undertake this research relating to the impact of policing the pandemic, so as to capture learning and inform future police challenges. The research reveals what law enforcement stakeholders thought worked well in relation to responding Covid-19 and what did not, and how these might shape the response to future threats such as climate change and criminal technological advances. Researchers surveyed experts from law enforcement using the Delphi method, a future scenario forecasting tool used to elicit opinion from experts on a particular topic which typically encompasses two or more rounds. They aimed to understand their perspectives on the police response, how the pandemic affected policing, what worked well and should continue, and how crime might change as a result of this and other drivers of change. Among the findings, there was consensus that the 4Es (engage, explain, encourage, enforce) approach had worked well, but that reduced opportunities for face-to-face contact had negatively affected community engagement, particularly with the elderly and those without internet access. But they nevertheless found the use of online meeting platforms in particular was transformative. There was also clear consensus that the pandemic had impacted negatively on staff wellbeing in a variety of ways. The researchers generated 20 recommendations aimed at ensuring the police are prepared for the next major disruption.

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