The Receptivity of Officers to Empirical Research and Evidence-Based Policing: An Examination of Survey Data From Three Agencies

Published date01 December 2014
Date01 December 2014
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
2014, Vol. 17(4) 359–385
The Receptivity of
! The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
Officers to Empirical
DOI: 10.1177/1098611114548099
Research and Evidence-
Based Policing: An
Examination of Survey
Data From Three
Cody W. Telep1, and Cynthia Lum2
Police officer receptivity to empirical research and evidence-based policing is import-
ant to consider because officers are responsible for implementing approaches vali-
dated by research on the street. Officer survey data from Sacramento, California;
Richmond, Virginia; and Roanoke County, Virginia suggest prospects and challenges
for advancing evidence-based policing. Generally, officers use few tools to learn about
research, but their views are in line with the evidence for some strategies. Officers
typically value experience more than research to guide practice, but they also tend to
recognize the importance of working with researchers to address crime. Officers
show some willingness to conduct evaluations but are most interested in using less
rigorous methodologies. The findings across agencies are fairly similar, although some
differences do emerge.
evidence-based policing, receptivity to research, officer survey
1School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA
2Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason
University, Fairfax, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cody W. Telep, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, 411 N. Central
Avenue, Suite 600, Mail Code 4420, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA.

Police Quarterly 17(4)
The evidence-based framework has played a major role in policing in the past 15
years, since the publication of Sherman’s (1998) seminal article advocating for
evidence-based policing. Sherman began by arguing that “Of all the ideas in
policing, one stands out as the most powerful force for change: police practices
should be based on scientif‌ic evidence about what works best” (p. 2). As
Weisburd and Neyroud (2011) described, much progress has been made on
ef‌forts to make the police more focused on ef‌fective strategies: “The police,
who were once considered conservative and resistant to change, have become
a model for criminal justice systems experimentation and innovation” (p. 2).
They point to evidence-based innovations such as hot spots policing and
problem-oriented policing (POP) that have dif‌fused widely in recent decades
(see Reaves, 2010; Weisburd & Braga, 2006). Lum (2009), however, noted that
“[d]espite its potential, . . . evidence-based policing has not rapidly dif‌fused into
American policing. There is little indication that most American police leaders
and their agencies systematically or regularly use tactics that are evidence-based”
(p. 3), a point also emphasized by Weisburd and Neyroud. These and other
scholars argue that much still needs to be done to bring empirical research
into the forefront of policing and make evidence-based policing more of a reality
(see Bayley, 1998; Mastrofski, 1999; Willis, 2013). Although support for evi-
dence-based policing has not been universal (see Moore, 2006; Sparrow, 2011),
there is a widespread belief that research evidence should be an important tool
for guiding police (and criminal justice) policy and practice (see Clear, 2010).
Evidence-based policing is not simply about generating more or better
research on police organizations and their practices, but practitioners and scho-
lars within this area are also concerned with how research is received, inter-
preted, understood, translated, and implemented in everyday policing practice
(Lum, 2009; Lum & Koper, 2014). Thus, one important step in moving forward
with evidence-based policing is to better understand the views of practitioners
and frontline of‌f‌icers and their receptivity to empirical research. Little attention
has been given to the views of the street-level bureaucrats, who ultimately are the
implementers of evidence-based policy and other reforms (see Lipsky, 1980).
Any ef‌fort to make scientif‌ic evidence a more important part of police policy
and practice will require extensive cooperation and investment from of‌f‌icers in
the f‌ield. As Wood, Fleming, and Marks (2008) argue, “If all police of‌f‌icers are
to be considered as change agents, the challenge before us is to identify and then
to establish the conditions that build this capacity, not exclusively from the ‘top’,
but also ‘from the bottom up’” (p. 75). Therefore, it is important to assess the
extent to which of‌f‌icers understand and apply concepts from empirical research
(see Lum, Telep, Koper, & Grieco, 2012). Do police of‌f‌icers know what
evidence-based policing is? Are they familiar with what the research evidence
suggests regarding ef‌fective programs for addressing crime and disorder? Are

Telep and Lum
police of‌f‌icers willing to incorporate research f‌indings and evaluation into their
day-to-day work?
We report here on an ef‌fort to assess police of‌f‌icer receptivity to empirical
research and evidence-based policing using a survey of of‌f‌icers in three police
agencies, the Sacramento, California Police Department (SPD) the Richmond,
Virginia Police Department (RPD) and the Roanoke County, Virginia Police
Department (RCPD). The focus on two agencies of similar sizes, both serving
state capitals on opposite sides of the country, and a third much smaller agency,
serving a largely rural and suburban county, also allows for comparisons across
agencies. We f‌irst discuss prior literature focused on receptivity to empirical
research in policing before turning to a description of the of‌f‌icer survey. We
then present results for the three agencies and conclude by discussing the import-
ance of of‌f‌icer receptivity in ef‌forts to move forward with evidence-based
Receptivity to Empirical Research in Policing: A Review
of the Literature
Prior research on police of‌f‌icer receptivity to empirical research and evidence-
based policing is limited. But as Lum et al. (2012) note,
These types of studies may prove just as useful as research that generates evalu-
ations or reviews that synthesize knowledge. Understanding what makes police
of‌f‌icers and their supervisors willing to look at and incorporate scientif‌ic knowledge
and processes into their decision making may better inform both researchers and
practitioners about how to apply the results of evaluations. (p. 70)
We focus on research examining issues related to receptivity in policing, but
note that receptivity has been researched more extensively in other f‌ields,
beginning with the seminal work by Weiss and Bucuvalas (1980) in the
area of mental health. Limited research has also examined issues of receptiv-
ity in other subf‌ields of criminal justice, including the courts (e.g., Farole,
Rempel, Byrne, & Chen, 2008) and corrections (e.g., Light & Newman, 1992).
Lum et al. provide a more extensive overview of the research receptivity
literature. We summarize here existing research on of‌f‌icer receptivity and
related topics our survey addresses.
Officer Knowledge Base
An important f‌irst question in assessing receptivity to evidence-based policing is
do of‌f‌icers know what evidence-based policing is? The phrase evidence-based has
become common in academic circles, and although there is debate on exactly
how to def‌ine it,1 there is a general consensus that evidence-based policing

Police Quarterly 17(4)
involves using high-quality research to guide practice. No research we are aware
of has asked of‌f‌icers whether they have heard of evidence-based policing. Aarons
(2004) found very low familiarity with the term evidence-based practice in his
survey of mental health providers.
Receptivity to empirical research also involves police of‌f‌icers being exposed to
research on the ef‌fectiveness of various strategies and programs. Nutley, Walter,
and Davies (2007) note that it is rare for practitioners to read peer-reviewed
academic journals, and instead police would be expected to be more likely to
read professional journals, such as The Police Chief published by the
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Rojek, Alpert, and
Smith (2012), in a national survey of police executives, found that among the
93.2% of agencies that reported using research at least occasionally, the majority
(84.7%) used professional publications as a way to learn about research f‌indings.
Other frequent responses included publications and guides from the IACP
(71.3%), National Institute of Justice publications (58.7%), research conducted
by other agencies (58.7%), and Police Executive Research Forum reports
(40.2%). Academic journals were less commonly consulted, but more than one
third of agencies (34.1%) reported using them to learn about research. It should
be noted that this was a survey of agency leaders, so we might expect rates of
exposure to research to be higher than among lower ranking of‌f‌icers.
In one of the few studies of police receptivity to empirical research, Palmer
(2011) surveyed inspectors and chief inspectors in the Greater Manchester Police
in the United Kingdom on the research resources they used. These higher rank-
ing of‌f‌icers read government publications fairly frequently. Two thirds of chief
inspectors (67%) read materials from the Home Of‌f‌ice, and a majority (54%)
read publications from the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

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