Better Policing Collaboration to link academics with practitioners

Dr Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay and Dr Jessica Woodhams

Crime and policing has always been at the forefront of public debate. Yet academic researchers and practitioners have not collaborated as fruitfully as they might have to understand ‘what works’ by way of interventions and the costs and benefits of alternate interventions. There is however reason to hope that there will be a push towards more evidence-based policing. First, the tight budgetary environment has led to tremendous pressure on the police to generate efficiency savings. Hence, there is an incentive to try and learn from academic research on cost-effective interventions which can reduce crime even when there is less money to spend. Second, there has been a landscape change in the governance of policing with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) replacing the unelected Police and Crime Authorities. The need to be accountable to voters may give some impetus to the PCCs to try to tap academic expertise on what sort of interventions would lead to a safer community. 

The recent collaboration between the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham, Aston, Warwick and Liverpool with five police forces and Skills for Justice seeks to identify priorities for innovation in policing which would lead to lower crime and a safer community. The collaboration has received funding from the College of Policing to develop a framework to identify priority areas for academics to work with practitioners to come up with innovation in policing.

The University of Birmingham has a wide range of researchers across its Colleges whose expertise spans different areas of crime reduction and analysis of criminal behaviour. In addition, we have experts in technological advances which can be used to fight crime. To give a flavour of the wide ranging expertise we offer, we highlight a few key aspects of the research which we hope will aid the consortium’s objective to develop innovation in policing.

Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay is an economist whose research has looked at understanding the way policing and socio-economic factors (wages, unemployment) affect crime rates and he has a number of papers which perform a statistical analysis of what factors affect crime rate. The models can be used to compute the changes in crime rate that occur if any of these factors change. The analysis can be extended to perform cost benefit analysis of different policing and socio-economic interventions. He has also modelled the impact of encouraging citizen reporting of criminal behaviour on crime rates and has shown that perverse and unintended effects can arise if such incentives are given without appropriate training to citizens on how to analyse if a behaviour is likely to signal criminal activity. His work has implications for appropriate design of an effective community policing framework. Bandyopadhyay is also working with Professor John Raine to develop a framework for evaluating the functioning of PCCs and their impact on community safety and the criminal justice system.

Jessica Woodhams is a forensic psychologist who initially started her career as a crime analyst within the police. Following this experience, she has spent a considerable amount of her academic career studying the consistency and distinctiveness of criminal behaviour to ensure crime linkage analysis is an evidence-based practice. She recently founded C-LINK (Crime Linkage International Network) following a grant from the Leverhulme Trust which brings together academics and practitioners from seven countries who research or practice crime linkage. The aims of the network include collaborative research that will inform policing, creating a research agenda for the future and share best practice. Woodhams is based in the Centre for Forensic and Criminological Psychology which is a hub of expertise in interpersonal crime (e.g., sexual offending, intimate partner violence, gang violence, robbery and child maltreatment). 

Beyond these two examples of academic-practitioner collaboration there are many more of our colleagues within the University working alongside the police in their research.  This includes colleagues from Psychology, the Business School, Geography, Social Policy, Local Government Studies, Computer Science, Electronic and Computer Engineering, Law and Medicine.  Academic expertise at the University of Birmingham in understanding offending includes sexual offending, family violence, extremism and radicalisation, drug use, gang violence, robbery, and serial offending. Further areas of expertise related to policing and crime reduction include the assessment and management of offenders, prison design, public perceptions of policing, policing large events, and general issues of accountability and governance. 

We are pleased to announce that the University will be hosting a large Research/Training Fair on 4 April at which colleagues with expertise in policing and crime reduction will be able to interact and network with representatives from local police forces, Offices for Police and Crime Commissioners and fellow academics from other universities.  We hope that through such activities, the Better Policing Collaboration will bridge the academic practitioner gap and play a major role in crime prevention and safer communities.

Dr Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay and Dr Jessica Woodhams