Police cars on a city street in the daytime

Policing Research

Improving public safety and the administration of justice through research, evaluation, data, and technology

Effective and informed policing is vital to the safety of individuals and well-being of our communities. In their role, law enforcement officers constantly confront many of society’s most difficult challenges and, in doing so, must be vigilant, equitable, and fair. At the same time, agencies are often understaffed, under resourced, and as the first responders for a wide variety of different needs, sometimes undertrained for certain situations.

With our multidisciplinary experts and independent perspective, we work with police agencies and policy makers to help ensure that solutions from the realms of criminology, data science, forensic science, technology, cybersecurity, and mental health become everyday practices for officers operating in the field. We believe that improved police-community relations can be achieved through the improved use of data, evaluation of existing police practices, and partnerships with departments to identify innovative practices. These efforts aim to make an agency’s work more efficient while also engaging the community, improving how communities are policed through evidence-based and empirically driven results.

Exploring Issues on the Frontiers of Policing

Our growing body of work in policing research encompasses the latest developments in the field. We are studying and tracking new policing technology, including body cameras and gunshot-detection systems, and the effect these technologies have on community trust. We are testing biometric sensors on law enforcement officers to understand the physiological effects of stressful situations. We are also keeping abreast of complex crimes that cross borders and traditional jurisdictions, such as human trafficking on the dark web, environmental crime, cybercrime, and identity theft. As these and other trends accelerate, we will remain an independent and reliable source for research that places scientific evidence at the center of effective policing.

Unlocking the Value of Data to Improve Policing Practices

Developing and implementing data-driven systems and strategies to improve policing practices are among our strengths. While police agencies often collect crime statistics and other data, the analysis of that data has not always kept pace. Many agencies review and discuss only certain types of crime statistics, and only on a monthly basis—a traditional practice that is informative, but incompatible with the need for real-time tactical decision-making and longer-term strategic adjustments.

Chiefs of police and other law enforcement officers engage us to help them manage, understand, and learn from their existing data. Our experts in police operations, data science, geographic information systems (GIS), and data visualization bring their knowledge to these projects.

Law enforcement also benefits from our capabilities as a leader in survey research. We conduct surveys on issues relevant to the practice of policing, community trust in the police, and the health and well-being of officers that can enhance organizational effectiveness in policing. For the Bureau of Justice Statistics, we are currently administering the 2016 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey, the most comprehensive source of national data on police staffing and operations.

While studying trends related to crime and policing, we have developed open source software—including CFS AnalyticsTM and RTI-STAR—that improve the analysis of data. These free tools ensure a broad reach and enable agencies to uncover trends, allocate resources, and customize approaches to different communities. CFS Analytics presents data on 911 calls for service (CFS) in a visual dashboard that allows managers to compare response times, community demand, and other factors impacting resources. RTI-STAR, which stands for Statistical Traffic Analysis Report, analyzes the potential for bias in traffic stops.

Improving Community Policing through Evidence-Based Strategies  

In addition to data and software, we conduct program evaluations and provide technical assistance to clients looking to implement evidence-based policing strategies. Recent examples are the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI, a project for the U.S. Department of Justice, and the near-repeat burglary intervention project sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.

SAKI targets unsubmitted sexual assault kits that remain filed in police evidence rooms, denying justice for victims and sometimes keeping perpetrators of sexual assault at large. We lead a collaborative team of experts who help define best practices and train and assist law enforcement investigators, forensic scientists, prosecutors, and other professionals in the collection and processing of forensic evidence, tracking of evidence, and investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. Our Forensic Technology Center of Excellence drives innovation and strengthens the practice of forensic science in investigating sexual assault and other crimes.

Research has found that once a home is burglarized the surrounding homes are at higher risk of being burglarized for the next several weeks. The near-repeat burglary intervention project was designed to disrupt and prevent future victimization in the areas immediately surrounding a burglary. In partnership with the Redlands (CA) Police Department and the Baltimore County (MD) Police Department, we developed and deployed a community-based crime prevention program to inform and activate residents in the co-production of public safety.