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:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Other Latest News

Scottish Justice Fellowship Winners Announced


We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2022 Scottish Justice Fellowships. Congratulations to Konstantinos Kosmas Gaitis, Katie Gambier-Ross, Tia Simanovic, Ryan Casey, Lucy Cathcart Frödén & Kate Thomson.

SIPC 2022 – Call for Posters


Would you like to showcase your research to an international audience of peers? Then submit your poster for exhibition at SIPR’s upcoming Scottish International Policing Conference! Posters are welcome on any area relevant to Policing Research and can represent research at any stage of the process. SIPR particularly welcome submissions from Early Career Researchers. An individual from each poster contributed will be provided with complimentary tickets to both days of the conference. There will also be a prize presented to winner of ‘Best Poster’ during the conference.

SIPR Impact Awards


SIPR are keen to formally recognise individuals, or teams, who have made significant contributions to policing research, policy, and/or practice. We invite you to nominate yourself, or your colleagues – individually or as a team – for SIPR’s inaugural impact awards. Two prizes are available – the SIPR Impact Award and SIPR Early Career Researcher Impact Award – each worth £500. Deadline for nominations Tuesday 3 May 2022

Newsletter Sign Up

Complete the form below to register your interest in any of our scheduled events. You will receive email confirmation of your registration and added to our mailing list to keep you updated with future events and activities from SIPR.

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