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Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Initiative Strategic Plan, 2018-2023

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Cover of the LEADS Strategic Research Plan, links to PDF version
Date Published
July 8, 2018

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NIJ developed the LEADS Strategic Plan to describe its current and projected efforts to increase the use of evidence and science in law enforcement and to support practitioner-led research.

This document will be of interest to researchers (academia, government, and law enforcement), federal, state, and local government partners, and stakeholders in the justice system. It offers a roadmap for NIJ’s plans for expanding the LEADS Initiative. As with all federal programs, this expansion is dependent on funding availability and strategic partnerships. Lessons learned from the activities that fall within this strategic plan will be disseminated among its constituents and partners.

LEADS mission:

The mission of the LEADS programs is to increase the extent to which law enforcement actions and decisions are informed by the best available evidence and to support research driven by policing practitioners. This overarching mission goes beyond traditional policing outcomes — increasing public safety and reducing crime — to include outcomes such as improving the public’s trust in law enforcement, enhancing operational efficiency, and maximizing officers’ health, safety, and wellness. This mission requires a sustained commitment to fostering “researchers in the ranks” wherein law enforcement officers and agencies routinely conduct studies and consider scientific evidence in all aspects of the policing profession. The long-term goal of this mission requires building a sustainable community of evidence-based practice so that law enforcement officers and executives can find, share, and produce the evidence-based practices that best meet the needs of their jurisdictions.

A Call of Collaboration

NIJ’s LEADS Initiative is one of many efforts to advance the police profession through science. We envision that program development will require interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships. NIJ will seek partnerships with other federal agencies, professional associations, and private institutions that support the development and adoption of LEADS Scholars, LEADS Agencies, and other evidence-based law enforcement mechanisms. These partnerships may include support for expanded funding; establishing public-private partnerships to support program implementation and evaluation; co-sponsoring research awards; convening meetings to bring key players together; establishing a LEADS Consortium; and shaping the national discourse on increasing the use of science and research in policing.

Strategic Priority I: Advance evidence-based policing, which is the concept of using the best available evidence to inform police actions and decisions, where practicable and appropriate.

The use of scientific evidence in policing is not a novel concept but has often been discussed in an abstract sense that fails to demonstrate its practical value to law enforcement practitioners. For police officers and agencies to broadly adopt evidence-based practices, they need to understand the commonsense, compelling benefits of doing so. NIJ is committed to educating criminal justice stakeholders and community partners on how evidence-based policing can help their jurisdictions as well as identifying early adopters and credible messengers of this approach.

Priority I Objectives and Action Plan

The objectives supporting Strategic Priority I build on NIJ’s prior efforts to spread the concept of evidence-based practice through its LEADS Scholars and Agencies programs as well as advancing the integration and applicability of research through researcher-practitioner partnerships.[1] NIJ will continue to work with partners, including other federal agencies, to encourage law enforcement to use scientific evidence to inform actions and decisions.

  • Objective I.1: Encourage understanding of evidence-based practice among law enforcement agencies and personnel.
    • Develop and implement a strategic communications plan to share broadly the benefits of evidence-based policing.
    • Support panels and plenary sessions at practitioner conferences; provide opportunities for LEADS participants to communicate their research and experiences at conferences and events, including to nontraditional audiences such as data science, public health, and technology conferences.
    • Sponsor and host NIJ events related to evidence-based policing and the LEADS Initiative.
    • Promote integration of the concept of evidence-based practice into existing law enforcement trainings and accreditation programs.
  • Objective I.2: Build sustainable partnerships with professional organizations, federal partners, legislative bodies, and program advocates who can serve as credible messengers for evidence-based policing.
    • Educate national, state, and local policymakers on the benefits of evidence-based policing, highlighting promising practices and opportunities for support.
    • Strengthen existing efforts to coordinate LEADS activities across analogous programs aimed at advancing evidence integration in policing.
    • Empower LEADS scholars and alumni to serve as ambassadors of evidence-based policing and establish local, regional, and cross-agency partnerships.
    • Identify and develop new strategic connections with law enforcement professional organizations and academic associations to secure buy-in and encourage joint messaging.
    • Establish and maintain international collaborations to learn from evidence-based policing practices in Canada, England, Australia, and other countries.

Strategic Priority II: Improve law enforcement capacity to collect and analyze data, integrate evidence into policies and practices, and conduct research.

The LEADS Scholars and LEADS Agencies programs have provided a basic understanding of the challenges that law enforcement practitioners face in consuming and producing data and research. However, more work is necessary to identify and promote promising practices in varying contexts, such as police agencies of various sizes, capacities, cultures, and resources.

Priority II Objectives and Action Plan

The objectives in Strategic Priority II build upon previous NIJ investments to support practitioner-led research, enhance the capabilities of research-minded law enforcement officers and agencies, and facilitate the communication and sharing of practitioner-led efforts to collect, analyze, and interpret data.

  • Objective II.1: Provide tools for law enforcement agencies to assess and improve their current capacity for evidence integration and production.
    • Develop a self-assessment tool to assist law enforcement organizations in identifying data, analysis, and research gaps within their agencies and in understanding the extent to which evidence currently informs practice, as well as assessing their organizational maturity with regard to implementation of evidence-based policing.
    • Publish a guide, based on lessons learned from LEADS Agencies pilot sites, to help law enforcement personnel and agencies use data and science to inform their policies and practices.
    • Develop mechanisms to connect interested law enforcement agencies and co-located researchers to support sustainable partnerships.
  • Objective II.2: Enhance law enforcement capacity to collect and analyze data.
    • Support training and workshop initiatives designed to facilitate practitioner data-collection efforts.
    • Work with partner organizations to increase the training and capacity of non-sworn law enforcement personnel who specialize in data collection and analysis (e.g., crime analysts).
    • Connect LEADS Initiative participants with relevant resources, including OJP and external resources, to augment internal data and analysis capacities.
  • Objective II.3: Enhance the capacity of law enforcement personnel and agencies to conduct their own research.
    • Create flexible frameworks and mechanisms, through NIJ solicitations or in concert with partner organizations, for funding law enforcement-initiated research projects designed to meet agencies where they are with regard to capacity and maturity of evidence-based practices.
    • Expand funding and support for LEADS scholars engaging in research projects (e.g., travel for site visits, additional research assistance) and promote multisite research projects across LEADS scholars and agencies.
    • Provide communications and publications support to scholars and agencies for publicizing and promoting research projects initiated through or during involvement in the LEADS Initiative.
    • Formally integrate the LEADS Scholars and LEADS Agencies programs to allow scholars to serve as ad hoc subject matter experts and provide technical assistance for LEADS agencies.
    • Provide evaluation training for LEADS scholars and their agencies’ crime analysts.
    • Connect LEADS scholars with additional research resources.
  • Objective II.4: Enhance law enforcement access to and utilization of existing research and evidence-based practices.
    • Establish partnerships to promote evidence-based research findings in practitioner-friendly venues (e.g., blogs, podcasts, and videos).
    • Encourage use of state- and region-based models for disseminating relevant research and promoting evidence-based practices (e.g., the Oregon Center for Policing Excellence).
    • Promote opportunities for law enforcement-initiated data-sharing efforts and develop a repository for LEADS Scholars and LEADS Agencies data to support multisite analyses.

Strategic Priority III: Support the next generation of research-minded law enforcement leaders.

The LEADS Initiative is a mechanism for NIJ to support research-minded law enforcement by recruiting new scholars and by continuing to engage program alumni. Under this strategic priority, NIJ will expand opportunities for LEADS scholars to acquire professional development and mentorship for their research interests and career aspirations.

Priority III Objectives and Action Plan

The objectives supporting Strategic Priority III build on ongoing efforts and create new professional development and mentoring opportunities for officers participating in the LEADS Initiative.

  • Objective III.1: Expand opportunities for law enforcement personnel to engage with the LEADS Initiative.
    • Build on existing LEADS Scholars and LEADS Agencies efforts, and work with relevant partners to increase the number of police personnel participating in the LEADS programs.
    • Encourage and provide support for LEADS agencies to provide mentorship and training opportunities to members of neighboring state and local law enforcement organizations that are interested in evidence-based policing practices.
    • Strategically integrate some LEADS Scholars and LEADS Agencies sites with relevant OJP programs.
  • Objective III.2: Enhance professional development opportunities for LEADS program participants.
    • Work with third-year LEADS scholars and alumni to provide mentorship to first-year scholars.
    • Work with relevant partners to provide training and educational opportunities to program participants in research techniques (e.g., research design, data analysis, and data collection) and professional development (e.g., leadership skills, mentoring, and second-career discussions), focusing on local academic partnerships when practicable.
    • Develop a forum for LEADS program participants to come together, present their research, and engage with the broader criminal justice research community.
    • Facilitate networking opportunities for LEADS scholars to grow their professional networks of fellow practitioner-researchers, evidence-minded leaders, current and future academic researchers (e.g., NIJ graduate research fellows), and civilian staff.
    • Develop mechanisms for communicating the importance and impact of the LEADS Initiative to NIJ, OJP, and DOJ leadership, with an eye toward growing internal support for scholars’ development and advancement.
    • Develop opportunities for LEADS scholars to engage substantially with OJP, DOJ, and IACP leadership.

Strategic Priority IV: Build and sustain a community of practice to support evidence-based policing.

A current gap in the policing profession is the lack of a robust network or system for police to find evidence-based recommendations for a given policing problem or educational opportunities in evidence-based practices and procedures. There is also a need for a platform to highlight the research of “pracademic” pioneers in evidence-based policing. NIJ seeks to facilitate the development of this community of practice around evidence-based policing and to explore bringing the concept of evidence-based practice to other areas of the criminal justice system.

Priority IV: Objectives and Action Plan

The objectives supporting Strategic Priority IV leverage the successes of current and former LEADS program participants to build a community of practice around evidence-based policing. These objectives also seek to provide law enforcement personnel in all jurisdictions with the opportunity to engage in a broader community of evidence-based policing, with the ultimate goal of increasing police effectiveness. These objectives further explore taking the lessons and ideas of the LEADS program to other facets of the criminal justice system.

  • Objective IV.1: Develop opportunities for former and potential LEADS program participants to engage with evidence-based policing.
    • Establish an Alumni Council to formally maintain connectivity with alumni of the LEADS Scholars program.
    • Support a law enforcement practitioner-in-residence at NIJ to develop and disseminate evidence-based policing projects and engage meaningfully with NIJ scientific staff and policy discussions.
    • Work with LEADS program alumni, partners, and stakeholders to identify mechanisms for continued engagement with the LEADS Initiative and evidence-based policing.
    • Provide competitive travel and professional development scholarships for LEADS scholars to attend relevant conferences where evidence-based policing practices are discussed.
    • Establish an award to honor law enforcement practitioners who are pioneers in evidence-based policing policy and practice within their agencies.
  • Objective IV.2: Expand LEADS program concepts to encompass non-sworn law enforcement staff and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
    • Explore partnerships to build evidence-based practice communities among non-sworn law enforcement personnel (e.g., crime analysts, law enforcement planners), including formal integration into the LEADS Agencies program.
    • Explore the feasibility of using the LEADS program model with other facets of the criminal justice system, including corrections, prosecutors’ offices, and courts.
  • Objective IV.3: Institutionalize the LEADS framework through a Consortium or Center of Excellence, supported by multiple funding sources.
    • Move the management of the LEADS programs to an external body with national reach, including fulltime management and program development by subject matter experts, in close coordination with NIJ program staff.
    • Continue to drive progress on strategic development and implementation through NIJ, including maintaining in-house advisors and subject matter experts to support program growth.

Date Created: July 8, 2018