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Applying your community engagement skills
Applying your community engagement skills

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10 Evidence-based policing

This section focuses on evidence-based policing, framed around a typical conversation between three concerned members of the community.

At a local café one morning you overhear the following conversation between three members of the local community:


‘We need to do something, we cannot just let things run on like this. I am just fed up of all the crime and anti-social behaviour. It is ruining what used to be a lovely place to raise a family!’


‘Well, in America they do things completely differently. They don’t tolerate any of this rubbish. Why don’t we follow their lead? We need to be much stricter and really show these louts the consequences of their actions.’


‘Yeah, but that’s America… and what evidence do we have that the same techniques would work here?’


‘Have you ever heard of ‘Scared Straight’? They take young offenders into prisons and show them what the future holds for them if they don’t just smarten up and get their act together. That’s what we need to do… some real discipline!’


‘Mmm, I’m not so sure… And what evidence do we have that it even works in America… it is all well and good to see something on a crime drama on TV, but we live in the real world and are dealing with real-world problems! We all want things to be sorted around here, but we need to do it properly! We definitely do not want to make things worse.’

New ideas about policing and approaches to dealing with challenging situations emerge all the time. While there is a real benefit to home-grown innovation, it is also important to learn from the experience of other police forces around the world. What have they done that has worked? What have they done that has not worked? And why? As Concerned Citizen 3 highlights above, what works in one place – in this case, America – might not work elsewhere due to a range of factors: social, historical, economic and legal amongst other things.

Moreover, how do we even know that they really work so effectively in other contexts? New crime reduction initiatives might appear effective at first and might grab the headlines, but the reality is that it can take years before we really know the full impact and whether new approaches are really so effective.

A prime example, highlighted by Concerned Citizen 2, is ‘Scared Straight’. This was a high profile intervention which involved bringing young offenders and also those at risk of offending into prisons to meet people who had ended up in a life of crime. The idea is quite simple – seductively so… expose young people to the harsh realities to a life behind bars and they will, so the thinking goes, be ‘scared straight’. The reality, however, is quite different: extensive research has shown not only that Scared Straight programmes do not work to nudge young people away from a life of crime and criminality, they actually make things worse (Wilson, 2011).

So, what might on the surface seem like a great, common-sense idea can actually have the opposite effect. But how can you tell? And where might you get evidence from?

Activity 11 Benefits and challenges

Drawing on the insights shared by Constable Allen, reflect on the situation described above and the broader case study, making notes on the following areas:

  • The evidence-based benefits.
  • The evidence-based challenges.
  • Your conclusions on whether it would help the community deal with the anti-social behaviour issues outlined in the scenario.

To do this you should use an internet search engine of your choice to search for evidence both for and against the Scared Straight programme.

You should summarise your thoughts in a brief paragraph you can share with a colleague.

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There are many sources online discussing various Scared Straight programmes. The key to looking for evidence online is finding and then drawing on evidence-based research.

The College of Policing has assembled a detailed overview of a wide range of crime prevention interventions. These can be viewed on the College’s Crime reduction toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

As you scroll down the list you will see, for example, that there is evidence-based detail on programmes such as Scared Straight, as well as a whole range of other interventions.

Having undertaken your own research on Scared Straight it would be worthwhile to compare your findings with those outlined by the College of Policing.