What Really Matters in Policing?
This article examines the methodology of evidence-based policing, the political context promoting its adoption and its diffusion within the police organisation. Running through it there are three themes which have coloured my recent work and publications with my Dutch colleagues, Auke van Dijk and Frank Hoogewoning. Firstly, that 70!years of police research has produced a body of knowledge drawing on multiple methods — observation, interviews, surveys, historical work — which also provides diverse forms of ‘evidence’: it may be viewed as ‘useless knowledge’ regarding direct utility but it is vital to understanding policing. Secondly, policing is complex and demanding, and we should look at what police actually do and what public expectations of them are and then focus on competences to develop confident officers and leaders at all levels. A fixation on crime reduction in political circles and research agendas threatens to distort the relationship with the public and to diminish the skills of officers trying to cope with multiple demands. The Dutch officers dealing with the MH17 crash in the Ukraine as a result of a rocket attack in a conflict zone with much loss of life, for example, were instantly faced with unprecedented challenges. ‘What works’ had to be constructed pragmatically, daily and on the hoof; crime reduction was far from their minds unless it referred to the Kremlin. What drove them were prior learned skills, an institutional capacity to adapt and a philosophy of a caring and compassionate duty of care to the families and friends of the victims: that was what really mattered. And thirdly, and finally, policing is inextricably tied to issues of rights, diversity, equity, justice and use of force and is laden with significance in the vital relationship of the citizen to the state. In brief, ‘what works’ is clearly important and valuable but — given the nature of policing — it always remains subordinate to the pivotal issue, ‘what really matters’.
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