Bringing evidence-based practice to policing

Dorset Police and University of Exeter team.

It might seem elementary that ‘evidence’ is a key aspect of modern policing. But thanks to a collaboration between police across the South West and academics from the University of Exeter’s Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology department, the force is adopting evidence-based research methods more common in clinical practice to take a new approach to crime-fighting.

The collaboration began when Detective Chief Inspector Neil Ralph from Devon & Cornwall Police contacted academics at the University of Exeter to assist in a month-long pilot he was leading to decrease violence and anti-social behaviour in the night-time economy across South Devon. The project, #RU2Drunk, issued security staff at pubs and clubs in Torquay with breathalysers in order to restrict access for people who have already had too much to drink, thereby acting as a deterrent for ‘pre-loading’.

Dr Katharine Boyd, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, and Dr Hannah Farrimond, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, were intrigued by the project. “We saw immediately the potential benefits of applying evidence-based practice strategies to the #RU2Drunk scheme,” said Dr Boyd. “Through analysis of the data collected, including levels of participation by premises, implementation of breath-tests, and perceptions of it within the various stakeholder groups ¬– such as licensees, police officers, ambulance staff, and the public – we were able to make a series of recommendations in terms of refining interview techniques and improving data capture.”

The result of this was a good working relationship with DCI Ralph and the wider force (Devon & Cornwall), which allowed them to put forward a successful Police Knowledge Fund bid together – Exeter Policing, Evidence and Research Translation (ExPERT) – on increasing evidence-based capacity through academic/police collaborations.

The pilot study revealed that #RU2Drunk had a significant impact in Torquay ¬– during the Christmas trial period, police experienced a 39 per cent reduction in violent crime in the town’s busiest night spots. These results inspired further roll-out of the #RU2Drunk initiative, including to neighbouring force Dorset Police. Using funding from an ESRC IAA impact grant, the ExPERT team worked with PC Holly Damen and Inspector Pete Browning to evaluate a comprehensive three-month evaluation in Weymouth.

Dr Boyd said: “In Weymouth, our evaluation helped Dorset Police better understand the landscape in relation to implementing #RU2Drunk more effectively. It also highlighted where resources would best be directed to support a new scheme such as this. Underlying all this was the fact that the evidence was presented by an external evaluation team with an unbiased perspective.”
A further result was significant liaison between Dorset Police and the University’s media teams, resulting in extensive radio and TV coverage of the Weymouth initiative.

Dr Farrimond said: “I think it’s the willingness to engage and see where it takes you that has made this a successful working relationship. For example, Devon & Cornwall Police Force now fund a University of Exeter staff member, Dr Dreolin Fleischer, to work as a knowledge broker between the parties, which has formalized and continued our joint work.”

Chief Inspector Ralph said: “In the current financial climate, it’s vital that policing focuses on what is empirically proven to ‘work’. As a result, policing collaborations with academia are becoming increasingly important as we search for ways to improve service delivery. It also enhances public confidence and legitimacy in policing as the public can be assured decisions are made on objective, sound evidence. #RU2Drunk has resulted in a long-standing, strategic relationship between Devon & Cornwall Police and the University of Exeter, which I have no doubt will result in improved service delivery for the public in years to come.”