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5: How do you identify a specific problem?

The theme of developing a research attitude and having a culture of curiosity continues to this chapter. Different ways to identify interesting research topics are discussed, including reading grey literature, and conducting fieldwork. The chapter also emphasizes the need to embrace practicality in research problem identification, and the choice of feasible problems. The chapter concludes with an outline of the CHEERS framework for problem identification.

Glossary terms in this chapter

Research attitude: A research attitude is a desire to advance policing by exploring different approaches, asking questions, evaluating data and information, challenging tradition, and being open to new ideas and the merits of testing different experiences.

Pracademics: Police officers with not only professional expertise but also academic training capable of examining research problems.
Grey literature: Research that is published in non-commercial form such as from industry or government, including internal reports, criminal justice data, working papers, or policies.

Additional information and links

Develop a research attitude

The Writing for a Houston based magazine,  Fred Decker argues that a good scientist (having a research attitude) involves curiosity, wonder, imagination, creativity and skepticism

And in this compelling three-minute video, Ken Clary - formerly in the Iowa State Patrol and now Police Chief in Bellevue, Nebraska and an NIJ Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) scholar - discusses the need to implement evidence-based practices for effective policing. He discusses how law enforcement agencies and officers should start by reviewing the existing body of knowledge. If they cannot find any applicable research, Clary suggests that they consider doing the research themselves.

A short read on the Farnam Street website has a good discussion of Chesterton's Fence, a heuristic or principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing condition is understood. It is a cautionary tale about rushing to make changes without appreciating potential consequences. 

In this article about pracademics in the journal Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, renowned researcher Anthony Braga concludes that "Increasing the number of pracademics in police departments, and putting mechanisms in place to ensure their skills and knowledge are actually used to advance knowledge, seems like a commonsense way to improve policing by building scientific evidence on effective programmes and underlying conditions that generate recurring problems." The full article is available here, and the citation is: Braga, A. A. (2016). The value of ‘pracademics’ in enhancing crime analysis in police departments. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 10(3), 308–314. 

Identify a problem through research

Some sites with grey literature include:

Thames Valley Police Journal

Police Chief magazine

The UK College of Policing Going Equipped articles can be accessed here.

Policing Insight requires a subscription. 

The CHEERS framework

In Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers: 60 Small Steps, researchers Ron Clarke & John Eck outline a number of easy steps to reducing crime in simple two-page bites. It is a good read for practical police and crime analysts. You can access the full document, but I have taken the liberty of copying to pdf two pertinent steps. In step 14, Clarke and Eck explain the CHEERS framework, and in step 15 they identify other important considerations related to CHEERS. Each step is just two pages, and these relevant four pages are worth a read in addition to the EBP: The Basics book. 

Reducing Crime podcast episodes

The chapter highlights pracademics - police officers with not only professional expertise but also academic training capable of examining research problems - so here are a couple of podcast episodes featuring pracademics. Both the featured episodes involve currently serving police officers. Other episodes featuring currently serving police officers include Lt. Bill Walsh (#29), Commander Alex Murray (#31), Superintendent Katy Barrow-Grint (#36), Police Chief Shon Barnes (#48), and Police Chief Bill Brooks (#51). Many others are former officers. 

Mike Newman (#02)

In this second episode of Reducing Crime, I talk with Detective Inspector Mike Newman of the Queensland Police Service in Australia. We chat about the development of evidence-based policing in their force, and how they have forged relationships with local academics. QPS have emerged as one of the most progressive police agencies developing new approaches to identifying best practice.

Natalie Hiltz (#39)

Natalie Hiltz is an inspector with Peel Regional Police Service in Ontario Canada and an advocate for evidence-based policing across the country. Inspector Hiltz was instrumental in organizing the first Evidence-Based Policing Conference in Canada in partnership with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and The Cambridge Centre for Evidence Based Policing. We talk about the emergence of evidence-based policing in Canada and her research into the overlap of violent crime offenders and victims in her community.

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