Ideas in American Policing presenter Robin Engel: Law Enforcement should strive for both effectiveness and equity in crime reduction strategies

0183EngelRobin2968The long-held belief that efforts by police to increase crime control tend to reduce attention to due process may be outdated and in need of revision, University of Cincinnati Criminal Justice Professor Robin Engel, PhD, told a Police Foundation Ideas in American Policing audience. In fact, research evidence shows that it may be possible to improve both crime reduction and preserve liberties with carefully structured enforcement strategies, she said.

Dr. Engel, the Director of the Institute of Crime Science at the University of Cincinnati and a member of the Police Foundation Research Advisory Council, presented the 18th “Ideas in American Policing” Lecture Wednesday. The series presents commentary and insight from leading criminologists on issues of interest to scholars, practitioners and policy makers. Many of the lectures are cited in research and academic journal articles.

The topic presented by Dr. Engel was “Effectiveness vs. Equity in Policing: Is a Tradeoff Inevitable?” She addressed a decades-old assumption in policing that was placed into theory by criminologist Herbert L. Packer. His hypothesis was that when police focus on crime control, they tend to limit their attention to policies that protect civil liberties and public perceptions of fairness.

Packer’s theory has often been turned into a formula that balances effectiveness in crime control against equity in due process, Engel said. She and fellow University of Cincinnati Criminal Justice Professor John Eck have carried on a spirited debate over whether it is possible to maintain a balance in that formula, she said. As a result of those discussions, she has become convinced that it is possible to use research evidence to evaluate whether current policing systems can support both effectiveness AND equity.

For instance, evidence shows that traditional policing practices like set patrol routes and monitoring response times are mostly ineffective – and they often lead to perceptions of inequity by many segments of the public, Engel said. Community Oriented Policing, which may or may not be more effective, has a higher perception of equity in the community. Both problem-oriented policing and evidence-based policing improve both effectiveness AND equity if they are designed to take both elements into consideration, she said.

“We need to focus more on discovering the evidence of what works in equity as well as effectiveness,” Engel said. “If a strategy is effective (in reducing crime) but not equitable, we need to say that it doesn’t really work.”

She advocated adding “transparency and teamwork” with community members to the current “Triple-T” strategy of policing that includes targeting what is needed, testing what works, and tracking whether results stay consistent.

Video highlights of Dr. Engel’s presentation will be available soon on the Police Foundation website. A written article on the presentation will be published in the future.