What is evidence-based policing?

The College of Policing has developed the following definition of evidence-based policing. Any views on this working definition can be emailed to research@college.pnn.police.uk.

Our definition of evidence-based policing1

In an evidence-based policing approach, police officers and staff create, review and use the best available evidence to inform and challenge policies, practices and decisions.

As a way of working, it can be supported by collaboration with academics and other partners.

The 'best available' evidence will use appropriate research methods and sources for the question being asked. Research should be carefully conducted, peer reviewed and transparent about its methods, limitations, and how its conclusions were reached. The theoretical basis and context of the research should also be made clear. Where there is little or no formal research, other evidence such as professional consensus and peer review, may be regarded as the 'best available', if gathered and documented in a careful and transparent way.

Research can be used to:

  • develop a better understanding of an issue – by describing the nature, extent and possible causes of a problem or looking at how a change was implemented; or
  • assess the effect of a policing intervention – by testing the impact of a new initiative in a specific context or exploring the possible consequences of a change in policing.

Evidence-based policing does not provide definitive answers that officers and staff should apply uncritically. Officers and staff will reflect on their practice, consider how the 'best available' evidence applies to their day to day work, and learn from their successes and failures. The approach should mean officers and staff can ask questions, challenge accepted practices and innovate in the public interest.

1. The concept of evidence based policing was developed by Professor Lawrence Sherman in 1998 (Sherman, L. (1998) Evidence-Based Policing. Ideas in American Policing Series. Washington, DC: Police Foundation).


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