Spotlight: Helping police use evidence to better address crime and violence

ISS partners with South Africa’s police to develop an organisational culture focused on using data to achieve impact.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) works with police in South Africa to tackle crime more effectively through evidence-based policing (EBP), a methodology increasingly understood and promoted by the country’s senior police and other government partners.

The approach sees police and researchers generate, review and apply the best available data to challenge and guide police policies, practices and decisions. It enables police to do more of what matters most to tackle crime, and less of what doesn’t work.

With its 187 000 employees and an operating budget of R274 million per day, the South African Police Service (SAPS) carries out millions of roadblocks, stop-and-searches, vehicle checks and other operations annually, but with limited evidence of impact on public safety and crime reduction.

‘Police in South Africa have more than adequate human and financial resources,’ says Andrew Faull, Senior Researcher in the ISS Justice and Violence Prevention programme. ‘The challenge is to use these resources in the best way for police to do what is most likely to make the country safe.’

EBP is an internationally-recognised approach based on better use of research and data. It boosts the impact of policing through a shift in organisational culture to embrace critical thinking and evidence of what works. EBP also encourages community and civil society participation in policing.

The formal registration of EBP projects in the SAPS national research division, and its Western Cape provincial office, demonstrates ISS’ role as a trusted partner focused on making South Africa safe.

‘Implementation of evidence-based policing will allow us to make decisions that are informed by research and can be tested, so we can better use the resources available to police in communities,’ said SAPS Head of Research Major-General (Dr) Phillip Vuma.

The registration of EBP projects by police shows ISS’ role as a trusted partner focused on making SA safe

In the Western Cape, one of the country’s most violent provinces, ISS is working with frontline police and communities to increase trust in police. EBP is now at the heart of the Western Cape Safety Plan and endorsed by provincial government ministers and Cape Town city officials. Workshops introduced EBP to Cape Town’s law enforcement leaders and decision makers, as well as Western Cape SAPS’ top leadership, the Anti-Gang Unit and police stations in areas with high crime rates.

‘Our province faces very serious violence, including gangsterism that blights communities,’ said SAPS Western Cape Commissioner Lieutenant-General (Adv) Thembisile Patekile. ‘We now have the internationally-proven tools and methodologies, with expertise from the ISS team, enabling us to assess which strategy and tactics are having the best effect, and to continuously adjust and improve our responses to crime.’

EBP equips police to evaluate their own performance. It encourages understanding of socio-economic and environmental factors that drive crime, hotspot identification, and profiling of the 20% of perpetrators who typically commit 80% of offences.

The approach values statistical analysis, empirical research and rigorous experimentation to complement traditional police decision making. It encourages officers to target resources and tailor activities to have the most impact, and then monitor and evaluate the results.

‘Police use metrics like the number of arrests, roadblocks or confiscations, but these don’t tell us about the impact of policing,’ says Gareth Newham, Head of the ISS Justice and Violence Prevention programme. ‘The medical field and many other disciplines are based on research and evidence; we are showing why policing should be too.’

Faull has coached SAPS Western Cape commanders to implement EBP, and in 2020 helped establish the first African EBP network. The ISS developed a resource guide to assist officers in evaluating their efforts to improve safety and promote trust in police. The guide also shows communities how to determine the likely success of police plans for their area.

The ISS produces a monthly newsletter showcasing national and international evidence in support of effective, ethical and accountable police work.

Faull worked with Maj-Gen Vuma on a paper for the American Society for Evidence-Based Policing’s 2022 annual conference in Washington, DC. He also coordinated a South African delegation to the conference that included Lt-Gen Patekile, the SAPS head of strategic management, and the Western Cape police ombudsman.

In 2022, Faull received the ISS Excellence Award for his ground-breaking work on EBP in South Africa.

For more information, contact:

Andrew Faull, ISS: [email protected]

Image: ©

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