After the Webinar: Evidence Based Policing. Q&A with Dr. Gary Cordner

Webinar presenter Dr. Gary Cordner answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Evidence-Based Policing: A Practical Approach.” Here are a few of his responses.


Audience Question: What do you define as internal or external conditions? Can you explain those two terms? 

Dr. Gary Cordner: External is really outside the boundaries of the agency itself and internal is inside the agency. What I had in mind with external conditions are things in the community such as crime, fear of crime and so forth. I think of it as situational awareness. One of the things that the police agency ought to want to know about is what is going on in its jurisdiction, to enable it to be as effective as possible. The conditions inside the organization include conditions for employees and so forth. I’m reminded of work that was done in the Madison Wisconsin Police Department in the 1990s. They developed what they called an inside-out approach. The chief of the time, David Couper, came to the conclusion that the first thing he needed to do in the department was change the way he managed the agency and change the conditions inside the police department so that people are treated with more respect and there was procedural justice inside the agency. Once that was accomplished, then he could be more demanding of officers and employees in terms of changing the way they did their work with the public – treating the public with respect and professionalism. That phrase, inside-out approach makes a lot of sense. It emphasizes that internal conditions in the police department really matter because it can be a necessary prerequisite to trying to ask employees and the organization to do a better job.


Audience Question: How is CompStat related to the Evidence-Based Policing approach? 

Dr. Gary Cordner: CompStat has been around now for a couple of decades, it came out of NYPD. I think as CompStat was originally designed, it was almost entirely focused on reducing crime so in that sense, this framework of EBP is broader than CompStat because it tries to emphasize that there’s a whole range of outcomes that matter and crime is one – arguably the most serious one, or the top priority, maybe. But it’s only one.

However, it’s also true I think that in a lot of jurisdictions, CompStat has evolved since the early 90s and has gotten broader. But all in all, EBP’s still a little bit broader than CompStat. Of course, most of us are aware of one of the criticisms of the early version of CompStat, that there wasn’t very much analysis. It identified where the crimes are happening and pressured commanders to do something to make the numbers go down. There wasn’t always much effort toward figuring out why those crimes are clustered where they were, figuring out if there were underlying conditions and doing something about that, or determining what it was that the police did that caused those numbers to go down. To some extent, the early version of CompStat seems to most people like whack-a-mole. It wasn’t really evidence-based, it was probably data-driven but ultimately, not necessarily evidence-based.



Audience Question: How do you determine which outcome is more important when you have limited resources in terms of implementing the options you’ve come up with? 

Dr. Gary Cordner: That’s a big question. I don’t think there’s a scientific answer to that. I suppose you could, in any particular jurisdiction, do some public survey and find out from the people the relative importance let’s say of those seven outcomes and then adjust the PD’s attention based on the public’s ranking or rating of that. That would be quite an exercise and on top of that, I think a lot of places, the public’s rating or ranking will change over time depending on what happened last night. To make it even worse, it might feel like the public’s view of what’s most important might depend on what happened last night a thousand miles away that they read about on the internet. I think getting public input about what are the most important outcomes will be a smart thing to do and will be helpful. Ultimately, though, I think this is why we pay police executives the big bucks. Their wisdom, experience, and judgment has to come into play. Again, I don’t think there’s an equation for this necessarily. It varies from place to place. The town I happen to live in right now, I think the biggest complaint is that pedestrians have a hard time crossing Main Street because drivers don’t slow down for people in crosswalks. Probably that’s not the biggest issue for every city and town but in the PD here where I live, maybe that’s the most important outcome and they should devote a lot of attention to that because in people’s mind that’s very serious here. Other places have relative priorities that will be a lot different. Ultimately, you’ll have to figure out priorities.


Audience Question: Do you find that some law enforcement agencies on a county level, for example, don’t wish to share EBP practices? If so, why does that happen and what could be done to overcome this obstacle? 

Dr. Gary Cordner: My sense is, when agencies think they’re doing something that’s working, they usually like to publicize it and get credit for it publicly. I think the vast majority of the people in the police field want to share what they learn with others. Though, surely there are exceptions. I think your question is on the county level. I don’t know anything from my own experience or what I’ve read that would indicate that a county agency, in contrast to a city or town or state would have a different stance regarding that.



Audience Question: A lot of agencies won’t have the human resources or the talent necessary to do the research that you’re talking about, do you have recommendations on how we might be able to reach out and involve our local colleges to be able to help to do this kind of analysis and recommendation? 

Dr. Gary Cordner:  One thing we’ve learned from the NIJ LEADS program is there are immensely talented people in all kinds of agencies around the country. So I guess the response to your question, I would encourage any agency to take a look inside and if you have people who have got the skills necessary to do some kind of a study because a lot of agencies are sometimes surprised at the talent level of people that they have and a lot of agencies underutilize the talent that they have. But having said that, it can be a challenge so sometimes you need outside help. College professors believe it or not are busy, so they may not be able to be as helpful as local agencies might wish because they are just pretty tied up in teaching classes, advising students and so on. There are a lot of criminal justice programs around the country, plus there are a lot of faculty members in local colleges and universities teaching sociology or psychology or other related fields. They do have the research skills to help an agency evaluate a particular practice or help them analyze a particular problem and figure out what’s going on, and I would add they don’t always expect to get paid. Sometimes an opportunity to work with the local agency is actually quite appealing to a local professor, if you find the right one. Access to data is appealing to them, especially the opportunity to use that data once they help you figure your thing out, maybe to get a publication so they get something out of it for their career as well as helping the agency out. I always urge, especially young professors when they are asking “how can I get into a police agency and get data?” to reach out without any expectation that they’ll be paid. Just reaching out to agencies and saying is there anything that I can do that could be helpful to you. The other thing is we always encourage professors to develop relationships with agencies, not just with chiefs, that can last over time and like any relationship, once you build trust going both ways then it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to do something useful and on the researcher side that you are able to gain access and get data because the agency trusts that you are not going to use it to burn them in the local newspaper or something. From the agency side, keep your eyes open, be aware, not every college professor actually has great research skills, don’t assume that they all do, so you’ve got to check them out a little bit. And also set some ground rules. I think the IACP has a model policy on how to create a partnership with a researcher including locals in college or university, it’s probably worth looking at that since I think there are some tips in there and some mistakes to avoid.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Evidence-Based Policing: A Practical Approach.”


Additional Resources
5 years ago
Thoughts on Maximizing Human Resources from Gary Cordner
Love Gary Cordner's reminder about the importance of leveraging every employee to their fullest pote […]
5 years ago
LEADS Scholars and Agencies: an Interview with Gary Cordner
Evidence-Based Practices have become a significant part of conversation throughout the justice commu […]