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Message from the Director on the Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Initiative Strategic Plan

Portrait of David B. Muhlhausen, NIJ Director, and Alan Hanson, Acting Assistant Attorney General

Through the Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Initiative, the National Institute of Justice supports law enforcement using data and research to inform effective policies and practices.

Police-led research has never been more important. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are expected to implement evidence-based practices to improve policing in a safe and just manner. As budget constraints force departments to invest wisely in courses of action that have proven effective — or, at the very least, promising — American law enforcement has moved toward evidence-based policing. Historically, there has been minimal support for officers and agencies to identify and access relevant research, let alone integrate this research into day-today activities. This is compounded by the fact that much of the relevant research is published almost exclusively in academic journals, and written for an academic audience, without regard for how practitioners will locate the work and gain access to it through a paywall, or what role the findings could or should play in practice.

Furthermore, law enforcement-relevant research has traditionally occurred in larger departments in urban areas because of the benefits of larger sample sizes. While incredibly important to the field, these projects do not always produce results that are relevant to the smaller, rural agencies that comprise the majority of law enforcement departments in the United States. These large-scale research projects often take years to answer what police agencies identify as high-priority questions. For departments reacting to the day-to-day realities on America’s streets, waiting for research results to be peer reviewed and published is not always possible.

NIJ’s goals with the LEADS Initiative are clear: Build the capacity for law enforcement to access and integrate existing research in their agencies, and empower law enforcement to answer their own high-priority research questions, where practicable. We support this work to ensure that law enforcement actions and decisions are informed by the best available evidence. By creating a robust community of research-minded law enforcement officers and agencies, we hope to galvanize the efforts of early adopters and promote an industrywide commitment to evidence-based practices. Police-driven research doesn’t eliminate the need for outside research and partnerships, but for law enforcement to be a profession grounded in science, officers must be empowered to drive the research.

Through this strategic plan, NIJ outlines our vision for the LEADS Initiative and highlights areas for partnership. We are one of a number of entities working to advance the police profession through science, and we welcome collaboration for sustainable progress forward. As outlined in this document, we are also laying the groundwork to expand the LEADS Initiative into other criminal justice disciplines. We look forward to working with our partners toward our shared vision of a law enforcement system in which policies and practices are grounded in scientific data, research, and evidence.