A large body of research on crime and justice is available, yet it can take years for findings to influence practice in the field. During a recent panel at NIJ’s 2023 National Research Conference, researchers and practitioners shared ideas and discussed practical steps and promising new approaches to inspire change. Three guests join the show to continue their conversation: Dr. Tamara Herold, a senior advisor to the NIJ director, Dr. Nancy La Vigne, hosts Dr. Shon Barnes, the police chief of the Madison (Wisconsin) Police Department, and Dr. Kim DuMont, an expert in evidence-based policymaking and senior vice president of program at the William T. Grant Foundation.
Reading and Resources from NIJ
- NIJ National Research Conference 2023
- NIJ's Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Scholars Programs
SPEAKER 1: Welcome to Justice Today, the official podcast of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, where we shine a light on cutting-edge research and practices and offer an in-depth look at what we're doing to meet the biggest public safety challenges of our time. Join us as we explore how funded science and technology help us achieve strong communities.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: Hello, everyone. I'm Tamara Herold, a Senior Advisor to NIJ Director Dr. Nancy La Vigne. In my current role, I'm working to promote NIJ's evidence to action initiative. I and my two guests are recording at the 2023 NIJ Conference, so please excuse any background noise you might hear. We participated in a panel discussion focused on the process of transforming scientific evidence into action, and we're excited to continue the conversation here. Today, I'm joined by Dr. Shon Barnes who currently serves as the Police Chief of the Madison Wisconsin Police Department. Chief, thank you for joining us.
CHIEF SHON BARNES: Thank you for having me.
TAMARA HEROLD: Dr. Kim DuMont is an expert in evidence-based policy making and Senior Vice President of Program at the William T. Grant foundation. Dr. DuMont, how are you today?
DR. KIM DUMONT: I’m great. Thank you, Tamara, for having me, too.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: Welcome to you both, thank you for joining me. Research shows that it takes a long time, about 17 years for a small amount of basic research to become best practice in the field of public health. This is a shocking statistic, especially since we often draw upon lessons learned in health and medicine to improve justice practices. Finding ways to quickly close the gap between evidence and action is key to improving justice personnel decision-making and advancing justice. Dr. DuMont, you have been an invaluable mentor to me and others who are working to better understand how to take evidence and transform it into action. I know that the road has been winding and long, but how has our understanding of this process evolved over time?
DR. KIM DUMONT: I would say it started with implicit theories about how research evidence might make a difference. We produced evidence, we built big structures around that production, we put it out there, it would be welcome with open arms, and used. We learned that's not the case, as you just described in your statistics. So, what did we do? We said, "You know what, we just need to make the evidence more compelling. We're researchers, we'll do it more rigorously. We'll communicate it in ways that are more accessible. We'll put it out there, people will run to it.” Not the case. We built clearinghouses to store blueprints, for example, and still, it has limited use.
So these fields of implementation science and studies on the use of research evidence emerged to help try to understand that. How can we get people to engage with what we know to do their work in different ways, in better ways, to better serve the communities? And I would say, for implementation science, the road has been largely focused on understanding the barriers to research use and the facilitators of research use. This morning, we heard a story about body armor and the incredible investments that were made to construct vests that would help officers in the field. And then we also heard the lethal consequence, when the vest was left hanging in a cubby, not worn, not used. So one thing I'd like to say is that this is not an academic question, the stakes here around evidence use are very high, and we need to figure it out. And so this question around how do we bring vests into officers' lives in a routine way is a really good example. And we heard one obstacle to that was finances. Our departments can't afford them. So how do we make them less expensive so that they can be issued, rather than discretionary? And we heard the tension in making them more affordable, for not meeting the standards that the officers required to remain safe. So it's not--these are not trivial questions. When we think about facilitators, we often think about, like, these policies to have issuance, that would be a facilitator to make sure the vests are worn. So I would say that implementation science has really focused around these questions of use of concrete or defined products and evidence-based programs.
The other field that emerged is studies around the research on research use. They've taken a different strategy. They first recognized that research evidence has something conceptual to offer. It shifts how we think, how we understand the communities that we work with, as well as how we respond to that. And so it's added that dimension to the piece. A second piece has shifted the focus from the use of the research to why is the research being used, to what end. And this really made us more aware of the entire system that research use--research is used in: the relationships, the politics, the values, and brought us to strategies for thinking about how do we work within a system to engage with research evidence and other types of professional expertise to do the best job possible.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: And I so appreciate that you mentioned that the stakes are high, and that there's--you know, there is a lot at stake. And evidence play such a important role in helping us to create better systems, processes, have better informed decision-making. And one of the barriers that I've read a lot about in implementation science has to do with leadership. And Chief Barnes, can you tell us a little bit about your department's new mission statement because I think it plays a key role in what you're trying to accomplish in Madison.
CHIEF SHON BARNES: Sure. Our new vision statement is that the Madison Police Department will be the national model for exceptional policing through our commitment to doing three things: being selfless public service, effective community partnerships, and evidence-based policing. And what we mean by that is, we want to be able to show in all our decision-makings, that we put our community first, especially those who are most vulnerable; that we are partnering, and the research is clear on that, the police are not always the best ones to solve community problems, that partnerships work better than being solo artist; and then of course, evidence-based policing. And I'll tell you, I think that we're the only police department in the entire country where evidence-based policing is actually written in our vision statement. And so I challenge our listeners, if you have it in there, you need to show it to me and then--and it has to be dated before 2021 to get credit. So we'll see what happens with that.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: It sounds like a--like a formidable challenge, and I'm not sure that anybody's going to be able to meet those expectations, but in terms of embracing evidence-based policing in your agency, what have--what's been some of the barriers to advancing that perspective and that mindset?
CHIEF SHON BARNES: I think some of the barriers is that sometimes it's hard to translate the evidence into how this will effect meaningful change in the organization. You know, police officers, they are very good at systematic and routine way of doing business. When you ask them to do something different, you need to show how this will benefit them in a positive way or something that they care about, the agency, or someone they care about, which is the community. And sometimes, that's not always clear. You mentioned earlier that it sometimes takes longer in science or medicine to go from evidence to practice. For us, I think it's a little bit shorter in timespan because most of the evidence is related to a particular department; we all could identify, even if we've never been there with New York City, that they're doing something that works, maybe it will work for me. That's the one thing that we have, a little bit different than medicine, you know. There could be--you know, my wife is a scientist, she's a cancer researcher, a cancer biologist, PhD, and she does research on mouse models and carcigenogens, whatever that word is that she talks about all the time. And I can't understand it and it doesn't relate to me, right? But it does relate to her patients and things that she sees, and so for us, it's a little different. And so, as my wife may be talking about this mice colony that didn't get cancer and what that meant, we can talk about these police agencies and the efficiency of the crime reduction that was measured or the amount of community engagement and how the community really came together because of this particular thing.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: So, Dr. DuMont, in terms of what the Chief just shared with us, how does this align with what we know works in terms of translating evidence to action?
DR. KIM DUMONT: He used the word model, and I would say, it's really model. So we've supported at the William T. Grant Foundation about 50 plus studies on the use of research evidence in policy or practice, and there's some very consistent findings whether you look in an education space, a justice space, child welfare, or other areas. And Chief has actually put into place, instilled, many of the principles.
So one idea that consistently comes across is the use of conceptual research evidence. And this conceptual use, we often don't applaud or appreciate, but it's really instrumental to how we organize ourselves, so that would be one thing. Our second piece is we--I like to say, "Don't add on, bake in." And everything that the Chief describes is about baking in. It's about--we heard earlier this morning on the panel, Chief described that evidence--using evidence-based practices is part of the performance review process, that's an incentive. It's in the policy. It's baked into the organization. We also heard this morning about the structure of meetings, that there is dedicated time to come together to discuss what is happening among the officers, in the community, and relevant research, and to make sense of that in a structured way, where people have time to bring and reflect given their values, their politics, their skepticism about what the research evidence is showing.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: So Chief Barnes, you're a LEADS scholar. Would you mind telling us--telling our listeners a little bit about the program and maybe how it's informed your approach to evidence-based policing, and how it's informed what you're doing at Madison Police Department.
CHIEF SHON BARNES: Sure. I'm an 2015 initiate to the LEADS Scholar Program. One of the things I think that the program has done for me is to connect me with like-minded people in criminal justice and policing that really want to do things differently, that want to test the traditional methods of policing, that want to embrace the academic community in order to make our departments better. And I always say that with the LEADS Scholars Program, one of the things that it taught me is not always about what's the right answer, but what's the right question that we should be asking here. And I really take that with me, and it's been great for my career because I've had an opportunity to meet some amazing people, create some amazing friendships, and learn more about how to make science a part of what we do in policing. To be honest with you, I really think that that's what the community expects from us, right? We are professionals. Every person, every community member is a part of our police team, but we're supposed to be the specialists in this arena, and I think that through the LEADS Scholars Program, I’ve learned how to do that.
DR. KIM DUMONT: I'd love to jump in here to highlight another finding that we have from studies on the use of research evidence, around the right question. So researchers have often, for a long time, been in charge of setting the research agenda and setting the research questions. What the studies on the use of research evidence say is that evidence is more likely to be used when it's designed, at the very beginning, with input, by those who will be affected and the users of that evidence. And so, the right question really descends on where you sit. And so, engaging in the partnerships to determine what the research agenda is actually a research-informed approach to setting an agenda, to generating the evidence, to encourage use down the road.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: What would you say to those looking to promote evidence-based decision making in their agencies or organizations? What are the things that people should prioritize?
DR. KIM DUMONT: That's a great question, and I don't work in an agency, so I don't want to tell other people what to do. But I'll share what--based on my understanding of the research, of what I might recommend as an outside advisor. So one thing is--and I said this earlier this morning, is you have to think about the longer term because it's about cultivating a culture and technical infrastructure that can support the use of research evidence. So that means, and we heard from the Chief this morning, hiring staff who have the research and data expertise to be able to provide guidance. That means investing in a data infrastructure that can allow you to have data that you can not just put into a system but also extract the information you need from a system. It means having enough time in your day, so think about staffing, to be able to reflect on what the research is in a group process so that you can do the sense-making about how what you're learning actually maps back to your practice.
Two other things, we have learned that research is much more likely to be internalized, meaning you start to get an understanding of it and think how to springboard from it for your job, if you go--if you have a set of tools. Allison Metz, who used to run the National Implementation Research Network at UNC and is now on the faculty there, did extensive work with the child welfare system in New York City. And she lead them through a process where they mapped the logic models of evidence-based programs to the outcomes of children and families, and they created desk manuals that sit on every child welfare workers' desk, that help them select which program for what need. So this allowed, in going through that exercise of really engaging with the research and grappling with what it's saying, and having to graph in some way, graft it to your practice, help them internalize and see how to move forward in that piece.
And the last thing I'll say is that there just no shortcuts. You need to build the relationships in this to be able to have peers whom you trust to engage, and resources that you--researcher resources that you trust, and you also need the staffing and the technical infrastructure. So think about the parallel system we would build that complements what we have built for research production. We are talking about research use, so we need a similar kind of investment so that we get the full value, realize the full potential, of the investments we made on the evidence, generation side.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: That makes a lot of sense. And Chief, would you say to other police chiefs, police executives who want to embrace evidence and make it part of their police culture?
CHIEF SHON BARNES: I would say that, you know, it's certainly a worthwhile endeavor. You know, it's certainly not a panacea, evidence-based policing, it's not a verb, you know, we did that with CompStat. Remember when people would say, "Oh, we have a problem over here. Well, we're going to CompStat that." You know, it used to drive me crazy to hear people say that. But no, evidence-based policing really is a--is a way to better understand how to do things better. We're looking at a time, to be honest with you, where we'll never see the budgets that we saw in the '90s, we'll never see the staffing that we saw in the '90s. And so we really have to be more efficient in the things that we do in order to reduce crime quickly and make people feel safe. And I always throw that word in there quickly, right? Because we know what the research says, we know what the micro-time, hot spot research says, work done by Roberto Santos and others, that, you know, we could do nothing. And eventually, crime would go down, right? But the quicker we respond to issues in a way that's systematic and a way that makes sense, the more we can reduce those crimes quicker. And that's--and that's very, very important.
And so I would--what I would say to chiefs is, you know, start with, you know, the NIJ website, you know. Start with Center for Evidence-Based Policy at George Mason website, or talk to the LEADS--someone that's in the LEADS Scholars Program that's certainly near your police department because we're all over the country now, and ask them, "Hey, what's this thing I hear about evidence-based policing," if you don't know anything. If you know a little bit, then go to those websites. If you want to know more, then walk over to your local university and say, "Hey, who's doing work around homelessness? Who's doing work around mental health? Who's doing work around juvenile crime? Who's doing work around recidivism?" And see what happens. You'll find that--I think the academic community, you know, they really want to embrace us, they need us, you know, and we need them as well. But they need the information, the data, and information to do the things well.
And I also say, hire someone within your agency as I did, I hired Dr. Lee Hunt, I created a position for him, he's our highest-ranking non-commission member. He serves at the assistant chief level. So I didn't want to just bring him in as just a regular civilian. I wanted to bring him in with some rank and some authority so that he can use some of that authoritative leadership to get things done, and he serves as our director of police reform, data, and innovation. And what I mean by that is I want the Madison Police Department to be the premier agency to go to for evidence and for research. And so for the researchers out there, shameless plug, if you're doing something interesting, you should give me a call, let us see what you--what you--what you're working on, and see if Madison is a good fit.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: We are so fortunate to have both of you working in the space. Thank you both for lending your time and insights to our audience.
CHIEF SHON BARNES: Thank you.
DR. KIM DUMONT: Thank you.
DR. TAMARA HEROLD: Thank you also to our listeners for tuning in. Please follow us on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcast. Stay tuned for future episodes from NIJ.
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