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Director's Message: Advancing the Police Profession Through Science


Recent events across the country have made calls for criminal justice reform commonplace, and law enforcement in particular has been called upon to increase standards of performance and advance the field as a profession. At the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), we are committed to supporting law enforcement in their efforts to advance policing, and we strongly believe that science can play a pivotal role in improving the administration of justice and ensuring that policies and practices are grounded in evidence.

Through the LEADS Agencies Program, we are ... developing practitioners who are capable of advancing science and the police profession simultaneously.

One of the new ways we are supporting our law enforcement partners is by bridging the gap between research and practice through professional development. Several years ago, NIJ launched the Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Scholars program in partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Through this program, NIJ supports a diverse, growing group of mid-rank law enforcement officers who have demonstrated a commitment to infusing science in policing policy and practice. Whether through directly partnering on research projects or integrating research results into policy development, these Scholars have done a tremendous job of ensuring that science informs policing, and vice versa.

Participation in the LEADS Scholars program includes an opportunity to attend research symposia in Washington D.C., participate in numerous networking and collaborative activities with NIJ leadership and leading criminal justice researchers, attend the IACP Annual Conference and Expo, and attend site visits of ongoing NIJ research projects on policing.

With the LEADS Scholars program entering its third year, it became very clear that there are a cadre of law enforcement officers — many of whom have obtained or are pursuing their doctorates — who are poised to make significant contributions to research at the jurisdictional level and beyond. That’s why this year, NIJ will be building the LEADS Agencies Program, where we will empower research-minded policing practitioners to answer their agency’s basic research questions and generate solutions uniquely tailored to their own agency’s needs.

NIJ has traditionally advanced our goal of fostering a science-based criminal justice practice by developing researchers who are responsive to the needs of the field. Through the LEADS Agencies Program, we are flipping the model and developing practitioners who are capable of advancing science and the police profession simultaneously. We are currently identifying experienced policing researchers to help us build this program and hope to launch it in early 2017. Additionally, our cadre of LEADS Scholars will help ensure that the program is practical, feasible, and responsive to the priority needs of law enforcement agencies across the country.

Another way NIJ continues to support our law enforcement partners in their efforts to advance policing is through our robust research portfolio on field-identified priority issues. We have recently invested more than $6.3 million in nine research awards to support law enforcement and communities. For example, we made an award to institutionalize and expand our National Police Research Platform. We launched the platform in 2008 to develop and launch an innovative survey methodology to provide much-needed data regarding law enforcement agencies, police officers, and community engagement. Unlike other national databases, the Platform focuses on developing and sharing knowledge about the quality of police management and operations rather than crime statistics. It provides agencies with metrics on issues like police legitimacy, safety and wellness, and an ability to compare their results with similarly situated departments. This allows police chiefs to gain insight into the challenges and opportunities within their own agencies, whether on officer stress and burnout or unsatisfied citizens in a particular precinct. The Platform also allows us to measure police culture, both within the agency and in the community, and gives us meaningful information about what approaches can be used to develop strong, trusting law enforcement-community relationships. We have partnered with the Police Foundation in this newest phase, and are working to develop the Platform into a highly interactive and dynamic tool that gathers and reports data on critical policing issues and emerging challenges. To see the full list of NIJ’s recent awards in policing research, please visit http://nij.gov/funding/awards/Pages/2016.aspx.

Finally, later this week, NIJ subject matter experts, leading policing researchers, and some of this country’s most innovative law enforcement executives will participate in an NIJ-sponsored, day-long research plenary at the IACP Annual Conference to discuss what works and what matters in policing. This session will focus on the sixth pillar of the report out of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: officer safety and wellness. If you are attending the conference, I encourage you to attend these sessions and connect with NIJ staff. My thanks to the IACP, who continues to be an invaluable partner in our efforts to advance the police profession through science.