Police turn to universities for help with their enquiries

College of Policing pushes research agenda with grants for joint projects

January 9, 2014

Source: Alamy

Standing by for answers: there is no consensus among police forces on which approaches work best in the same scenario

“I don’t think people understand the scale of the culture change required in the police – [it’s] a shift from doing it as they have been told to, to thinking about the best way to handle an incident.”

These are the words of Dame Shirley Pearce, former vice-chancellor of Loughborough University and now chair of the College of Policing – the organisation charged with overseeing the introduction of evidence-based practice for police officers in England and Wales.

Officially launched in February last year, the college picks up the training and development role that was previously the responsibility of the now dissolved National Policing Improvement Agency.

A strategy document published in September, Our Strategic Intent, places interaction with universities at the heart of the college’s agenda.

It will work with universities to determine research priorities and this week announced 10 grants – worth a total of about £450,000 – to fund collaborative work with an initial nine institutions (see table below). Seven other grants, each expected to be worth about £45,000, are due to be announced this week.

Dame Shirley, who was recognised in the New Year Honours for services to higher education, said that she wanted all police forces to engage with higher education institutions, adding that to date there had not been enough funding made available to further research into policing.

“It’s not been happening because there hasn’t been as strong a culture of looking at the knowledge base in the police as there has been in other professions…but there is a real thirst in policing to understand what works best,” she told Times Higher Education.

She added that universities might be guilty of not recognising the “complexity of policing”, meaning that cooperation between the police and academia has not been as widespread as it should be.

“The goal is to have an infrastructure in which universities and forces work together and people can move across boundaries, as they do in the health sector,” she said. “The first thing about creating an evidence-based profession is to find out if there are things that are going wrong, and stop them.”

According to Dame Shirley, police constables recognise that different forces take different approaches to similar scenarios, regardless of what the evidence might suggest is the best approach.

“Often there will be good reasons, because of population differences,” she said, adding that policing had to develop a culture that was always asking if it was handling situations in the best way possible.

Knowledge sharing

As well as setting standards for policing, accrediting training providers and promoting integrity and ethics, facilitating the development and sharing of knowledge is one of the College of Policing’s main objectives, Dame Shirley explained.

To this end, the grants unveiled this week will enable universities and local police forces to develop stronger ties and establish regional research hubs. 

“At a time when money is tight, these partnerships will help us to lever more outside investment into the evidence base for policing,” said Rachel Tuffin, head of research at the college.

One of the projects, which has received £41,025 from the college, involves the University of Leicester working with Leicestershire Police, Northamptonshire Police and Thames Valley Police to facilitate better knowledge exchange with postgraduate students.

According to Simon Cole, Leicestershire Police’s chief constable, the collaboration will build on projects in which the force has developed ties with local higher education institutions.

“Our relationship with Loughborough University has led to some cutting-edge work on technology; our relationship with De Montfort University sees our new recruits trained through the university; and I’m a visiting fellow in the department of criminology at the University of Leicester,” Mr Cole explained, adding that universities “bring some academic rigour” to the force’s work.

“We had a postgraduate researcher from Loughborough who came in to do some work on demand management. As a consequence, we ended up employing him, and he designed the shift pattern that we now use.”

However, not all regions have displayed such willingness to foster collaboration between academia and policing. Mr Cole said that it was “hugely important” that all police forces took the opportunity to do so – not only to improve policing but also to save money.

“Austerity means that we can’t afford to be anything other than as efficient as we can be, which means we have to understand what is the best way of patrolling, and what is the best way of responding [to emergencies],” he said.

So what gets results?

The What Works Centre for Crime Reduction is one of the initiatives aiming to cement evidence-based practice within policing. Operated by the college and co-funded and managed with the Economic and Social Research Council, the three-year programme will map the existing evidence base for crime reduction, label it for quality, cost and impact, and make it easily accessible.

The consortium delivering the programme includes the Institute of Education, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Birkbeck (all part of the University of London), University College London and the universities of Cardiff, Dundee, Surrey and Southampton. It began operating in September, and is developing an online portal that will allow officers access to the best available evidence on what works.

The college has also launched a Policing and Crime Reduction Research Map, which aims to provide an overview of the research into policing taking place in the UK. Academics can share details of their research on the database to help them locate other scholars working in similar areas, and to help identify gaps in policing and crime reduction-related research.

“Building a body of evidence is central to the College of Policing mission, as is making sure this is used locally,” Ms Tuffin concluded.

“I am hugely excited by the contribution these partnerships will make to the way the police service goes about its work and the benefits that will result for the service and the public.”


Grants made by College of Policing

RecipientGrant Aim of work 
Source: College of Policing
University of Cambridge£50,000To promote awareness of successful police-led initiatives
Cardiff University£45,796To establish regional links between higher education and the police
Durham University£49,000Research into work-based factors that help to deliver excellence
Dyfed-Powys Police£44,000To develop a network to research rural policing
University of Leeds£50,000To establish regional links between higher education and the police
University of Leicester£41,025To facilitate knowledge exchange between the police and postgraduate students
Manchester Metropolitan University£49,457To establish joint working protocols
University of Nottingham£50,000To establish regional links between higher education and the police
Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Gloucestershire£20,000To establish collaborations with the University of Gloucestershire
The Open University£48,000To develop a “framework for collaboration”

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