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NIJ’s Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science Scholars Program for Academics


Update on 2024 LEADS Program

NIJ will not be accepting applications from academics to join the LEADS program in 2024. 

The Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Academics program offers a unique opportunity for early-career academics to engage with other NIJ LEADS Scholars, all of whom are mid-career police officers, civilians, and fellow academics dedicated to advancing the police profession through science.

The LEADS program grew out of a desire to support and develop research capacity in the next generation of law enforcement leadership in America. In 2014, NIJ partnered with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to establish an annual award of 10, three-year scholarships for research-minded law enforcement officers. The program has expanded in recent years to include opportunities for civilians working in and with law enforcement agencies and academics with experience in policing research and practice. Currently, the IACP, the RAND Corporation, in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and the National Policing Institute (NPI) support the implementation and development of the LEADS program.

The program has grown to over 115 sworn officers, civilians, and academics across the country, both current Scholars and alumni, who have formed a strong network of individuals committed to using evidence and data to inform law enforcement policy and practice.

NIJ LEADS Scholars are pioneers in the evidence-based policing movement, and present and publish frequently about their research and findings. LEADS Scholars have led research projects to test the effectiveness of automatic license plate readers in California, the impact of stress on officers in Ohio, the effectiveness of various patrol vehicle lighting schemes in Connecticut, how to increase gender parity and female retention in police academies, and many other issues. With support from the LEADS program, Scholars have used data to answer empirical research questions on body-worn cameras, GPS monitoring of convicted felons, the development of risk assessment tools, and how to integrate high-quality research and evidence-based practices into police academy curricula.

An important aspect of the LEADS program is the connection between researchers and practitioners. The addition of LEADS Academics to the program has strengthened those connections in a number of ways.  LEADS Academics, coordinating with the LEADS “implementation and development team” (RAND, PERF, IACP, and NPI) provide guidance and information to other Scholars regarding research methodology and ethical concerns associated with conducting research. LEADS Academics network with other Scholars to improve their own understanding and skills related to working with law enforcement agencies and practitioners.

Eligibility and Expectations

LEADS Academics must have been awarded their doctorate or equivalent terminal degree (e.g., J.D., M.D., Ph.D.) during or since calendar year 2018. LEADS Academics must have experience working on at least one research project that involved both working directly with a law enforcement agency and using data provided by that agency or collecting original data during the project. LEADS Academics must be full-time professors or research faculty of a university or college located in the United States that grants bachelor's or higher level degrees. While they are not required to hold tenure-track positions, the applicant’s primary professional role must be research. Individuals whose only affiliation with a university or college is an adjunct appointment are not eligible for this program. NIJ encourages applications from diverse academic disciplines including, but not limited to, social and behavioral sciences, technology, engineering, and math.

The LEADS Academics program acknowledges that all participants are working full-time as professors and/or researchers at their university or college, and the program is designed to be flexible and dependent on the capacity of the Academic and the demands of their school and current work. There are however two meetings LEADS Academics are expected to attend that may require travel: the annual IACP Conference, including participation in a pre-conference LEADS meeting and discussion (4-5 days), and the NIJ Summer Session in Washington DC (2-3 days). NIJ covers the cost of all travel and per diem associated with these events.

Program Activities

The LEADS Academics program is a three-year commitment and Academics have the opportunity to participate in a variety of additional activities, including:

  • Programming at the IACP Annual Conference, beyond the expected participation in the pre-conference meeting and orientation day discussed above, including:
    • Attendance at the IACP Research Advisory Committee (RAC) meeting and the newly formed IACP Police Research Advancement Section (PRAS) meeting.
  • Collaborative brainstorming events between LEADS Scholars, NIJ science staff, RAND, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), IACP, and NPI.   
  • Opportunities to present and/or lead panels on research and findings at academic and law enforcement conferences and be published in academic and practitioner-focused magazines and journals.
  • Integration into an on-line community of practice moderated by the IACP connecting both active Scholars, alumni and acting as a repository for participant information sharing related to research in policing.
  • Participation in peer review of research applications submitted to NIJ.

NIJ covers all U.S domestic travel, accommodation, and per diem costs associated with the events Scholars participate in as part of the LEADS program.

This program does not include direct funding to LEADS Academics to support original research. 

Application Process

When NIJ is accepting applications, interested applicants must submit the following materials to [email protected] subject-line: LEADS Academics.

  • Current CV, including date of receipt of doctoral or other terminal degree
  • Letter of support from department chair or other supervisor
  • At least one law enforcement practitioner reference and their contact information.
  • Personal essay. Applicants should address the following questions in a 4-page, double-spaced essay (12pt, times new roman font).
    1. Drawing on your experience working directly with a police agency, what do you believe makes partnerships with outside researchers most effective and productive? What challenges, if any, did you have and how did you overcome them?
    2. How would you use that experience to collaborate with LEADS Law Enforcement and Civilian Scholars if you are selected for the program?
    3. Since the goal of the LEADS program is to build research capacity within law enforcement agencies, how do you think police practitioner-researchers can most effectively contribute to policing research?
    4. Why do you want to participate in this program and how will your participation achieve your career goals?
    5. What specific skills do you have that would benefit the NIJ LEADS Scholars? Please include examples of these skills and, if relevant, describe how you have used them in past work supporting a police agency.

Direct all questions to [email protected].

Date Published: February 6, 2024