Case study: Evidence-Based Policing goes to India

About 30 years ago, Professor Lawrence Sherman made a shocking discovery about crime in Minneapolis. “We found that 3 percent of the addresses had over half of all the crime,”he says. “This huge concentration created an opportunity to use massive increases in the proportion of time police spent in high-crime locations to see whether that would reduce crime.” Beefing up police presence in these hotspots cut the overall number of crimes in the city dramatically.

The Minneapolis experiment was a decisive moment in the development of what Sherman would later term ‘Evidence-Based Policing’ or EBP. The approach, which emphasises statistical analysis and randomised controlled trials to inform policing strategy and tactics, would eventually lead Sherman to Cambridge, where he is now Wolfson Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Criminology. He has collaborated with over 50 police and justice agencies around the world, and is known as a founder of experimental criminology.

EBP, developed and championed by Cambridge researchers, is changing police education and police work around the world. Sherman’s research, and that of colleagues such as Dr Heather Strang, an expert in police-led restorative justice, Director of the Police Executive Programme and Director of Research at the Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology, have made the University’s criminologists widely sought-after for educating police officers in the application of EBP.

Cambridge Enterprise’s Consultancy Services team was created to facilitate precisely this sort of expertise-sharing outside of the University. The team first worked with Sherman in 2015, when he led a large-scale policing experiment to cut homicides in Trinidad and Tobago, the first of its kind worldwide. The project involved training 200 police leaders in EBP, through seminars, discussions, research projects, data management, supervisions and exams.

The outcome of the experiment? Hotspot policing was found to reduce murders and shootings by 40 percent.

Last year Sherman, Dr Peter Neyroud and other colleagues from the Institute of Criminology were contracted to run a two-year programme to train 600 mid-career police chiefs in India. Working with the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Policy Academy, the top police training institute in India, the programme covers police professionalism, EBP, hotspot policing, drug trafficking, hostage negotiation, body-worn cameras and police ethics. Having concluded its first two years, the programme has been judged a success. It was recently presented to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Director-Generals of Police at the PM’s annual conference with senior police chiefs in Pune.

Changing the culture of a police force is not a simple task, but it is one that the University is well-equipped to handle.

We don’t see police leadership training as a process of getting people to memorise things; we see it as a process of getting people to understand. This is the way that organisations should be learning, and the University has a definite role to play in that. Applying scientific testing, targeting and tracking of police resources to make police more effective, especially during times of budget constraints, is a winning formula.

Professor Lawrence Sherman, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge