Twitter Feed

Evidence-based policing…use our data responsibly

Hamilton_police line

By David Hamilton, Scottish Police Federation  

In recent years, the contribution to policing practice and policy by academia in Scotland has become better recognised and actively encouraged. Now terms such as ‘evidence based policing’ are common place, understood and being applied in many parts of the Service.

Such research is also being increasingly used by journalists, politicians and other academics as the basis for comment, policy and secondary research. But the problem with many of the commentaries and analysis is that the data upon which they are based is unsafe and unreliable.

For example, the recent and ongoing debate on stop and search suggested that over half a million people in Scotland were stopped in Scotland in the year 2013- 14. They weren’t. The Scottish Police Federation, the organisation that represents the rank and file, immediately challenged the figures and the data. We quickly identified the target and performance culture that encouraged the mass recording of stop and search. We identified a lack of clarity in policy and gave operational examples of engagements and seizures that were being recorded as searches.

In time this view would be accepted by Police Scotland, HMIC, Audit Scotland, Scottish Government and the Scottish Police Authority. In short, the published data for stop and search prior to June 2015 has been deemed unreliable and flawed by almost everyone.

The concern of many police officers is why then this data continues to be used as a basis for research and journalism. Often the reliability issues are acknowledged in reports but then ignored and conclusions drawn from what authors surely know is flawed data. All that an increase in recorded searches tells us is that there has been an increase in RECORDED searches, that is quite different to the number of actual searches.

But it’s not just stop and search. Crime figures are often incomparable too. New offences, different recording criteria, regional variations and interpretations, increased international crimes, more confidence in reporting sexual crimes- current and historic all impact on the level of the playing field. That’s why page 1 of almost every dataset is heavily caveated and comparisons with previous years discouraged.

So a plea to academia from those of us in policing who want to benefit from ‘evidence informed’ debates, hear fresh ideas and be given the analysis that will help improve our service and profession. Please ensure that your  data is accurate, identify what it really is saying, not what you think it’s saying, seek the context in which it is drawn  and use those who provide it to explain it . A failure to do so not only raises ethical questions but also risks driving policy and strategy in entirely the wrong direction.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Social Share:

Other Latest News

Seldom Heard Voices: Community Impact Event 


In 2021, SIPR, Police Scotland and Scottish Police Authority funded 5 grants to support research into ‘Seldom Heard’ communities. On Wednesday 26th April, we hosted a collaborative event to present the final research projects to an audience of academics, community members, NGO members, and Police Scotland staff and serving officers. First up, Kirsty Forrester from Dundee City Council and Dr Jonathan Mendel from the University of Dundee discussed their collaborative research with BAME communities and serving officers, highlighting the need for trust. Second, Dr Andrew Williams from St. Andrews and Inspector Jason Peter from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit presented their ‘Photovoice’ Project which aimed to encourage young people in areas of inequality to engage with their community by taking pictures. Third, Dr Julie Berg and Emily Mann from University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh respectively presented their project’ Accounting for Complexities: an Intersectional Approach to Enhancing Police Practitioner Accountability, Legitimacy & Sustainable Reform’. Fourth, Professor James Moir and Dr Corinne Jola from Abertay University focus on the topic of empathy with LGBT youth who are care experienced or are from other disadvantaged background. Finally, Bryony Nisbet from Queen Margaret University presented her and Dr Nicole Vidal’s research into refugee and asylum-seeker experiences, trust and confidence with Police Scotland. Following the presentations, representatives from Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority were invited to reflect on the findings and recommendations, and to provide assurances of the SPA and Police Scotland’s ongoing commitment to the communities and the issues raised. Assistant Chief Constable Emma Bond, said: “This important research underlines our commitment to listening to all our communities so we can continually improve how we represent, reflect and serve them. “Providing every citizen with a just and effective police service is fundamental to policing legitimacy and to our ability to keep people safe. “A great strength of Police Scotland is that our officers and staff are drawn from different backgrounds and experiences. What unites us is our shared and non-negotiable set of values – integrity, fairness, respect and a commitment to upholding human rights. “I am grateful to everyone who contributed to this work and we are already considering the recommendations made so that we can continue to design our services to best meet the needs of our communities.” Tom Halpin from the Scottish Police Authority said “The Authority is committed to policing in the public interest, to do that we must understand public views, opinions, and concerns. The research published today will allow us to gain more insight into where to target our activity and attention to ensure we build the strongest relationships we can with all communities in Scotland.” SIPR Director Liz Aston underlined SIPR’s commitment stating that “SIPR will continue to support the dissemination of these important research findings in order to ensure that they impact policing policy and practice”. SIPR hopes to continue to support research into Seldom Heard Communities.



After seven years as a SIPR Associate Director, Professor Denise Martin has made the difficult decision to step down.

SIPR Associate Director


Following Professor Denise Martin’s decision to step down from her role as SIPR Associate Director and lead of the Education and Leadership network, SIPR is now inviting applications from prospective candidates to take on this role.

SIPR Newsletter Sign Up

You will be added to our mailing list to keep you updated with future events and activities from the Scottish Institute for Policing Research

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. For further information please read our Privacy Policy.