In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evidence-Based Policing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Resources and Translation Tools
  • Effective Strategies
  • Methodologies and Evidence Quality
  • Police-Researcher Partnerships
  • Embedding Research into Practice
  • Debates about Evidence and Experience
  • Police Receptivity to Research
  • Future of Evidence-Based Policing

Criminology Evidence-Based Policing
Cody W. Telep
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0255


There has been a strong push for evidence-based policing around the world in recent years from researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Although there is no single definition of the concept, evidence-based policing generally refers to police strategies and tactics being guided by scientific evidence of effectiveness. This evidence can take many forms, although the evidence-based movement frequently turns to results from methodologically rigorous work and in particular randomized experiments and quasi-experiments that can provide the most believable answer to questions of whether a strategy or tactic works. But the evidence in evidence-based policing is not limited exclusively to findings from randomized experiments, and can include a variety of approaches with a common emphasis on policing practice being guided by science and empiricism, rather than anecdotes, untested traditions, or hunches. In addition to police practice being guided by research, evidence-based policing emphasizes police departments consistently evaluating their own practices. This requires a strong emphasis on analysis and data to guide decision-making. In recent years, a number of new resources and translation tools have made it easier for practitioners to access and digest research evidence. There is now a large and growing evidence based on what works in policing, particularly for reducing crime. A number of different approaches have been taken to connect this research to policing practice, including developing and sustaining partnerships between police and researchers. These partnerships can be challenging to maintain, especially without external funding, but are more successful to the extent that they are mutually beneficial and focus on areas of interest to both academics and practitioners. Internal champions and crime analysts can also be utilized to embed research into practice. Evidence-based policing does have its critics, which has led to recent debates in the field. Some, for example, argue that the evidence-based movement has overemphasized rigorous methodologies at the expense of officer experience and expertise. Others point to a concern about blindly following empirical research without considering normative, practical, and financial constraints that should also impact policing practice. Recent work on receptivity to research in policing suggests that officers are generally open to evidence-based policing and partnering with researchers, although gaps remain in officer knowledge about existing research. Evidence-based policing is likely to remain a prominent topic in the years to come, as researchers, practitioners, and policymakers consider ways to ensure fair and effective policing in communities around the world.

General Overviews

The papers in this section introduce the topic of evidence-based policing, defining the term and providing examples of what evidence-based policing looks like in practice. These definitions vary somewhat across papers. Sherman 1998 is the seminal paper on evidence-based policing and represents perhaps the first time the terminology of evidence-based medicine was ever applied to policing. Sherman 2013 revisits this seminal work fifteen years later, providing updates on the state and status of evidence-based policing around the world. Mears 2007 notes the challenges in making crime policy in general more evidence based, while Welsh 2006 focuses on these challenges in particular in policing and the benefits of an evidence-based approach. Bueermann 2012 focuses on the necessity of evidence-based policing for agencies to be as effective and efficient as possible in an era of limited resources for law enforcement. A number of recent works provide a good overview of evidence-based policing. Fyfe 2017 defines the term and focuses in particular on efforts to make policing in Scotland more evidence based. Tilley and Laycock 2017 describes different types of evidence that can be incorporated into evidence-based policing and what can be learned from the evidence-based movements in other fields. Lum and Koper 2017 is a comprehensive volume on evidence-based policing, providing a broad definition of the term, focused on research and science playing a role in decision making. The book profiles several agency projects to better integrate research into practice.

  • Bueermann, J. 2012. Being smart on crime with evidence-based policing. National Institute of Justice Journal 269:12–15.

    In this paper a former police chief focuses on the importance of using scientific evidence to guide policing practice. The author suggests being evidence-based is especially important in an era of limited financial resources when agencies must maximize their effectiveness and efficiency. The author also points to the value of police departments partnering with universities to assist in evaluations and learning about science.

  • Fyfe, N. 2017. Evidence-based policing. In Policing 2026 evidence review. Edited by Scottish Institute for Policing Research, 9–20. Dundee, UK: Scottish Institute for Policing Research.

    The author of this paper defines evidence-based policing, discusses its benefits, and reviews barriers to using research in practice. The author focuses in particular on efforts to make policing in Scotland more evidence based, through close collaboration between Police Scotland and the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), a consortium of researchers from thirteen universities who focus on conducting high-quality research and working to translate this research into policing practice.

  • Lum, C., and C. S. Koper. 2017. Evidence-based policing: Translating research into practice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book provides an extensive overview of the concept of evidence-based policing, reviewing policing practices with strong evidence of effectiveness, as well as a number of approaches to better integrate and embed research into practice. These approaches draw from the Matrix Demonstration Project, an effort to test strategies for institutionalizing research into practice in multiple agencies (see Evidence-Based Policing Matrix Demonstration Project, cited under Resources and Translation Tools for more information). This is the most comprehensive volume to date on evidence-based policing.

  • Mears, D. P. 2007. Towards rational and evidence-based crime policy. Journal of Criminal Justice 35:667–682.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2007.09.003

    This article describes evidence-based crime policy in general, pointing to a mismatch between much of current crime policy and a rational, evidence-based approach. The author points to a number of problems with current practice, including gaps between theory and the design of practices, gaps between ideal and actual practice implementation, a lack of rigorous evaluations, and a lack of cost-efficiency assessments.

  • Sherman, L. W. 1998. Evidence-based policing. Ideas in American Policing. Washington, DC: Police Foundation.

    This Ideas in American Policing lecture introduces the concept of evidence-based policing. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the topic. The author argues police practices should be based on scientific evidence about what works and points to the importance of agencies both using prior research to design interventions and constantly engaging in internal research to assess effectiveness. This paper sparked much of the subsequent research on evidence-based policing.

  • Sherman, L. W. 2013. The rise of evidence-based policing: Targeting, testing, and tracking. In Crime and justice in America, 1975–2025. Edited by M. Tonry, 377–451. Crime and Justice 42. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This article reviews the state of evidence-based policing in the fifteen years since the author originally wrote about the concept. The author in particular describes the importance of the “triple-T” strategy of policing. This involves police targeting the highest-risk places and people, testing to ensure strategies are effective and not harmful, and tracking what officers are doing in the field and how that relates to policy goals.

  • Tilley, N., and G. Laycock. 2017. The why, what, when and how of evidence-based policing. In Advances in evidence-based policing. Edited by J. Knutsson and L. Tompson, 10–26. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

    This chapter provides an overview of evidence-based policing, describing why evidence should be used in policing, detailing different types of evidence that can be useful in guiding policing, and offering suggestions on how evidence can best be incorporated into practice. The authors point to lessons learned from the fields of medicine and engineering to suggest how evidence might be better incorporated into police training and work.

  • Welsh, B. C. 2006. Evidence-based policing for crime prevention. In Policing innovation: Contrasting perspectives. Edited by D. Weisburd and A. A. Braga, 305–321. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides an overview of what evidence-based policing is and the benefits of an evidence-based approach to crime reduction. In summarizing prior reviews of the policing research evidence base, the author concludes there is sufficient knowledge available for policing practices to be guided by science and argues that evidence-based policing is an innovation worth adopting for police to maximize their crime prevention potential.

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