The advantages & disadvantages of evidence-based policing

Updated April 17, 2017

Evidence-based policing is the application of empirical research to police procedures. Police have long worked to improve their evidence-based research, learning from past experiences, applying and refining what worked and discarding what did not work. The difference between the evidence provided by the traditional approach and more recent procedures is the degree to which standardised empirical and scientific methodology is used to solve crimes.

Traditional vs. Modern Evidence-Based Policing

In traditional police investigations, evidence was often anecdotal and procedures were highly personalised, depending on the particular experience and outlook of senior police and civilian leadership. However, the modern concept of evidence-based policing implies the use of formal academic research, in order to derive the most effective policies and procedures possible. This research is often conducted by professional scholars and experts in the fields of criminology, sociology and psychology.

Applying Evidence-Based Policing

Once research has been conducted on a particular issue, police procedures are developed, based on their effectiveness, and on which political leaders or police departments decide what methods to use. Researchers often make specific recommendations to maintain an objective or unbiased disposition in relation to the evidence gathered. They may, however, demonstrate that one response is superior to another based on statistics such as reduced crime levels, community complaints against officers and on duty related injuries.

Advantages of Evidence-Based Policing

The biggest advantage to applying evidence-based policing is that police can base their decisions upon established and proven methods of investigation. Furthermore, they can build on existing evidence and advance procedures through innovations based on the practical experience of police officers.

Disadvantages of Evidence-Based Policing

One important disadvantage of evidence-based policing is that polices and procedures will only be as good as the research itself. In many cases, researchers may not be sufficiently thorough with their hypotheses, data collection, methods and testing procedures. If anyone of these areas is faulty, the conclusions derived from that research may be unreliable. Additionally, many police officers may not be sufficiently versed in research methods to properly implement these strategies. Lastly, simply attaching the term "evidence-based" to policy decisions may give the community a false sense of security that current policies are indeed the best and most effective.


Only the strictest and most comprehensive studies should be adopted by police departments, and some methods may work differently in certain contexts. For example, research carried out on police polices in highly populated inner cities may not necessarily apply to rural police departments.

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About the Author

David Alfredo has been a freelance writer since 2008, working mostly for small business producing website content, ad copy and articles for use in trade magazines. He holds a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's degree in political science.