I spend my life in criminal justice matters, but I’m often surprised how much good work gets done in this area that I have zero idea about.
Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to be a judge for the Evidence-Based Problem-Orientated Policing Awards. It was a hell of an eye-opener.
There were five finalists, and remarkably three came out of the Counties Manukau district. Whatever the cops are drinking there, it should be bottled and sent to all the stations around the country.
The projects ranged in size and scope, from the heavily funded through to cops rolling up their sleeves and making the most of what they have. For example, a complete revamp of the Tactical Response Model (sparked by the murder of Constable Matthew Hunt), through to efforts to increase court compliance in Napier and Hastings.
They all had one thing in common: a scientific, evidence-led, process to reduce crime and keep communities safe. This is something the Evidence-Based Policing Centre is trying to instil in all police activity.
There were three awards, and then a supreme award. Here’s a small nutshell of the three winners.
1) The Commitment to Problem-Solving Award went to a team that used crime heat mapping to identify a heavy concentration of car thefts.
They identified the most common times that thefts were occurring and drilled into offender behaviour including speaking to some of those who had been caught to understand why this particular place was being targeted. They researched how they could change things in the environment, such as creating clear sightlines to assist security guards. They divided the area in two and made changes in one and not the other so that they could test if their interventions were working. And you guessed it, they were. The thefts decreased.
2) The Excellence in Generating, Applying and Developing Evidence Award went to a team that used arrest data to identify a housing complex that had a high crime profile.
Instead of simply arriving time and time again with handcuffs, they turned up one day with clipboards and interviewed the residents to understand the issues they faced. They introduced social agencies to the place and held a community day to bring the residents together with the intent of bringing greater social cohesion. A further survey of residents found the actions were working, but interestingly one negative measure actually increased – calls for noise complaints – because residents felt they could stand up when things were occurring that they didn’t like. A small committee of residents are now planning their own community day and are reporting that the complex is transforming. Bravo.
3) The Excellence in Working with Other Stakeholders to Solve Problems Award went to a project that was established to target the problem of youths committing ram raids.
While police worked to apprehend youths involved in ram raids, they wanted to understand the motivations for the crime. If they could do that, they figured, they could work to prevent the crimes from recurring. Police went to academic literature from a range of sources including the Chief Science Adviser’s office and quickly realised they would need help, so they brought together an array of government agencies and community groups to work with the youth offenders and their whānau. Each day they look at the arrest data and create a plan for each targeted individual within 48 hours. The incidents of ram raids are decreasing, and review data to date has found that 78 per cent of young people targeted by this initiative did not reoffend. Furthermore, the model of interagency cooperation and targeted interventions is right now expanding from South Auckland around the whole country. This project also took out the big prize, the Supreme Problem-Orientated Policing Award.
It’s very easy to be cynical around the problems of crime and the failings of the justice system - God knows that’s me at times - so spending the day watching presentations about the great work that was being done was a real palate-cleanser. But more than that, I was even more impressed by the approach. As an academic, I always appreciate moves away from reckon and towards science.
When introducing the awards day, the executive lead of the Evidence-Based Policing Centre, Mark Evans, said that it’s a great achievement to be a finalist but “there can only be one winner”. I’d argue that the winner is the New Zealand public.
Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the Director of Independent Research Solutions and a sociologist at the University of Canterbury.