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Innovation in Policing: a guest blog from Chief Superintendent Alex Murray

7th Jan 2016

Today we have a guest blog from Chief Superintendent Alex Murray of West Midlands Police – the second largest force in England and Wales – with whom we work closely on a range of criminal justice issues. Alex is Commander of Solihull Local Policing Unit. He is also the founder of the Society of Evidence Based Policing and has introduced the use of randomised controlled trials into West Midlands Police as a means of understanding what works in reducing harm and providing value for money. Today he blogs about innovation in Policing and draws attention to the annual conference hosted by the Society of Evidence Based Policing in April. Over to Alex.


Policing has always been about discretion. I care more about my staff catching burglars then I do about them giving fixed penalties, more about building trust with domestic violence victims than making sure we are visible on every street.  Roberts Peel’s founding principle was that the success of policing should be measured by the prevention of crime, not solely its detection. How do you prevent crime? Clearly, the answer is not just to focus on charging criminals for crimes that have already taken place, crimes for which someone has already been victimised.

As a police leader, I can operate with flexibility in applying new approaches to crime prevention, but two additional factors are currently driving us to become more innovative. The first is austerity: with considerably less money, it is more important than ever that we spend our time doing what is most effective.  The second is the connected advent of evidence based policing, which puts the scientific method at the heart of how we understand the impact of our actions.  We use advanced data analytics to target our work and we test our hypotheses in the real world (Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Institute of Criminology of the University of Cambridge, is the leading academic in this field).  We use randomised controlled trials or other methods to robustly address the question we are trying to answer.  We are moving away from an era in which ‘all operations were doomed to succeed’ – as a tired and slightly cynical front line officer may note – to an era in which we are closer to understanding and learning from the real impact that our work is having.

It is in this context that West Midlands Police, like other forces, is working with the Behavioural Insights Team.  What small changes can we make that will contribute to a more efficient police force and ultimately result in fewer victims of crime?  We are undertaking a handful of experiments ranging from reducing reoffending rates to prompting honesty to ensure we can gather the best evidence.  These experiments, at zero cost to the taxpayer, will add to the knowledge West Midlands Police has about ‘what works’ in Policing. Critics may raise an eyebrow and proffer their opinion on what the police should be doing, but strong leadership allows us the space for the innovation that is as vital to the evolution of policing as it is to that of other professions, such as medicine.

The College of Policing run the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction and have set up a framework through which the police can increasingly apply an evidence based approach.  Embedded change will only take place, however, when the hearts and minds of police leaders embrace evidence based approaches themselves.

The Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) is a charity that seeks to build a movement within policing whereby the best research evidence is communicated, produced and used – and not isolated to journal articles or university criminology departments. Every year SEBP hosts a conference: this year’s topics include body worn video cameras, public order, cyber-crime, out-of-court disposals, suicide and violence. Through sponsorship, the cost of this two day event (including meals and drinks) is a very reasonable £70. You can book online direct from the SEBP website). Have a look at the speaker list; it includes some of the best in this field, including Simon Ruda (BIT) and Professor Jeff Brantingham – a world leader on forecasting crime – whose talk is entitled “Mission Improbable: The Science of Predictive Policing”.

SEBP will also be awarding Avon and Somerset Police and BIT with the award for outstanding applied research for their trial on promoting diversity in the Police, which increased the success rate of applicants from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background in a key part of the recruitment process (for more information on this research, see this blog).