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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 9

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

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

Comparing Probability of Police Officer Dismissals in London Between Misconduct Hearings Chaired by Chief Officers and Legally Qualified Chairs by Lawrence Sherman, Carmen Villa-Llera, Geoffrey Barnes and Michele Roner

Police chiefs are often criticised for their failure to dismiss rogue officers. Yet in all but the most serious cases, they have no power to sack officers found guilty of misconduct. Since 2016, the majority of misconduct cases have been held in front of a panel chaired by a “Legally Qualified Chair” (LQC), generally a Barrister, instead of a police chief as previously. This descriptive analysis by Larry Sherman and others adds weight to the argument that LQCs are more lenient than police chiefs. Focusing on the Metropolitan Police, which has seen declines in dismissals since the changes, the researchers examined all 234 standard (excluding “special” or “accelerated”) misconduct hearings resolved by the MPS in all 22 months prior to the first hearings chaired by Legally Qualified Chairs (LQCs) in 2016, and in the first 22 months after the first LQC hearings, for a total of 44 months. They also compared dismissal rates in the two groups of hearings based on whether the officer was white or of of Black, Asian, and Multiple Ethnic Heritage. They found LQCs were “substantially” less likely to dismiss officers. For every 100 cases heard by Chief Officers rather than LQCs, there would be 38 more dismissals expected from the Chief Officer hearings. Furthermore, Black, Asian, and Multiple Ethnic Heritage officers were 115% more likely than white officers to be dismissed in LQC hearings, due to lower dismissal rates for white officers, but only 13% more likely to be dismissed than white officers in Chief Officer hearings. The researchers said this analysis is not a causal test of the effects of changing from Chief Officers to LQCs to chair standard hearings, but they said that there is no evidence that the LQC system has produced any improvement for the standard of discipline at the MPS. They added there was every possibility that the LQC system has made the MPS less likely to dismiss officers whose continued service poses a risk to the public.

Does Chemical Property Marking Deter Burglary? Results from a New Danish Experiment by Britta Kyvsgaard, Malthe Øland Ribe and David Sorensen

Chemical property marking, such as using SmartWater, is often recommended by police forces as a way of identifying thieves and deterring theft. These are traceable liquid and forensic asset marking systems that are applied to items of value to identify thieves and deter theft. The liquid leaves a long-lasting and unique identifier, whose presence is invisible except under an ultraviolet light. Users apply a few drops on valuables and then register them on a database. The kits are accompanied by warning stickers to alert potential thieves to its presence. This Danish randomised controlled trial suggests the innovation may have limited success. A sample of 12,000 previously burgled households were randomly assigned to one of three groups: treatment (sent the property marking system and a warning sticker to deter burglars), placebo (sent a general crime prevention letter), or control. Compliance was low, only twenty-nine percent (1178) of the 4000-household treatment group ultimately registered for the experiment and posted warning stickers as instructed. Meanwhile, another 27% (1074) of the treatment group registered for the experiment but failed to post stickers, while 44% (1748) never registered. The researchers found due to low rates of compliance, simply offering households a forensic property marking system is unlikely to affect their overall risk of burglary. Residents who actually post warning stickers may reduce their risk of burglary, but the reductions obtained are likely to be small. Receiving a letter that simply calls residents’ attention to burglary risks and strategies of prevention, without any other police action, has no effect on a household’s risk of future burglary. The experiment suggests stronger nudges are needed in order to ensure the public adopts behaviours that reduces their risk of being burgled again. However, whether a deterrent effect would have been demonstrated if more households had complied with the experiment remains unknown.

Structural resilience and recovery of a criminal network after disruption: a simulation study by Tomáš Diviák

Without careful consideration of the long term effects, criminal networks tend to recover after a disruption, and may come out even stronger. This study uses a real-world street gang network to simulate the effect of disruption and subsequent recovery. The purpose of this research was to analyse the empirical network and simulate appropriate disruption strategies and their immediate impact on the structure of the network. The second goal is to simulate hypothetical response of actors remaining in the network and the conditions under which the disrupted network recovers or disintegrates. This study utilises cohesion and centrality measures to describe the network and to simulate nine network disruptions. Stationary stochastic actor-oriented models were used to identify relational mechanisms in this network and subsequently to simulate network recovery in five scenarios. Removing the highest-ranking actors had the largest immediate impact on the network. However networks with strong social ties and similarities and based in the same area (triadic closure and homophily (on age and ethnicity) were likely to recover, and some disruptions could even backfire by leading to the group becoming tighter and more cohesive. The potential for swift recovery indicates understanding the mechanisms driving network recovery is more important than the immediate impact of disruption.

From the Practice bank: Clear, hold, build West Yorkshire Police

This initiative, captured in the College of Policing Practice bank, provides a framework for bringing serious and organised crime group threats into neighbourhood policing. West Yorkshire Police focused on an area in Bradford, the BD3 postcode, which includes the wards with the highest harm scores in West Yorkshire, measured by the Managing of Risk in Law Enforcement (MoRiLE score), high numbers of organised crime groups operating out of the area and high levels of deprivation. The area was hostile to traditional policing, with low reporting to the police and low confidence and trust in the police. To reduce the activity of organised crime in the area and improve community safety and confidence in the police, West Yorkshire Police launched three phases of activity under the headings of clear, hold and build. Beginning in 2020, they first they targeted organised crime gangs, they then worked to ensure spaces remained safe through stopping other gangs capitalising on the vacuum created. They then used a whole system approach, working with the community, to tackle the drivers of crime. In the Bradford BD3 area, the crime severity score monitoring showed a 37% reduction over six months. There was also a 30% reduction in serious violence offences, a 20% reduction in drug offences and a reduction in MoRiLE threat scores for the locations. Relationships between the police and the community have improved – the community feels the police are more accessible. This has built confidence about reporting intelligence through the partnership portal. The initiative was used as pilot proof of concept by the Home Office and similar initiatives are being rolled out nationally. The practice bank also draws out key learning drawn from the pilot for those seeking to replicate it.

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