The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


This is the second year of publication for the Canadian Review of Policing Research. Last year 29 summaries were published, this year we have only 13. It is possible we have failed to locate all the policing research undertaken and ready for publication; but there is also the likelihood that last year we profited from a backlog of articles that had lacked a Canadian medium for publication until the CRPR appeared. More worrying is the likelihood that we have only 13 articles this year because little policing research is being done in Canada.

The Editor-in-Chief, Professor Curtis Clarke, has been trying to draw this to the attention of governments, policing agencies, universities and funding bodies for a number of years. Canada prides itself on its professional police, largely free from corruption and respectful of human rights, and regards itself as a world leader in democratic policing. But without a flourishing policing research program, specific to Canadian circumstances, our policing system will be deprived of the new insights and knowledge that provide the leadership edge.

It is gratifying to see that a significant number of research summaries submitted to CRPR are from practitioners. Many joint academic-practitioner journals around the world lack practitioner contributions. But some practitioners are often contributing summaries of their graduate and post-graduate theses, which have been pursued in personal time and financed from their own pocketbook. Other practitioner summaries are the results of research contracted or undertaken by police services that have diverted operational funds into research. So, while practitioner contributions are a strong indication of a Canadian policing community becoming increasingly educated and relying on research for decision-making, the paucity of academic contributions raises the worrying question of how policing will continue to improve and practitioners, eager to apply new ideas, will find the material, mentors or academic researchers to help them do so without government financial support for a national policing research program.

One ray of light in an otherwise bleak policing research landscape has been the Ipperwash Inquiry, which has commissioned a body of research on Aboriginal issues and policing. The research has the potential to increase understanding of Aboriginal issues and improve policing services for Aboriginal peoples. It may also serve as a memorial to Dudley George, the young First Nations man killed in the protest in Ipperwash Park, and as a vindication of others involved in that sad and shocking event. A summary of the papers presented at a symposium at Osgoode Hall School on the perennial issues of police governance, independence and accountability, is included in this issue of CRPR. This contribution to the elucidation of the relationship between government and police, particularly with respect to Aboriginal peoples, is long overdue.

Another encouraging event this year was the introduction of the Canadian Police College (CPC) Police Research Scholarship. The scholarship is offered annually to an academically qualified police officer on the basis of a submitted proposal. The research topic is prescribed by the CPC and the proposals are evaluated by an outside panel of academics. The first recipient of the scholarship was Sergeant John House of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who has researched and produced a report on the key skills required to be a good major case manager. As a number of public inquiries into major cases that have gone awry have noted, good management of complex major cases is crucial in both the investigative and prosecutorial phases if justice is to be done and seen to be done. A summary of Sergeant House’s research appears in this edition of CRPR.

Most of the summaries this year show a preoccupation with police operational practices. There are two summaries of evaluations of community policing mechanisms in Ottawa and Edmonton. One city is still struggling to find the right ingredients for its community policing efforts and one has found a seemingly very effective approach, but there might be a danger of treating it as a panacea. But both sets of research findings are valuable in providing reliable information and guidance to other police services engaged in or contemplating similar approaches. In this way, research can promote policing efficiency and help police services avoid costly programs that fail.

Other research with an operational focus also has the objective of improving police practices. Findings from the examination of the characteristics and treatment of bank robberies in Calgary could encourage a more strategic focus in police operational decision-making on bank robberies, while the insights provided by research on police patrol supervision could lead to adjustments in patrol supervisory practices. The international symposium on the criminal exploitation of women and children held in Chilliwack, British Columbia, in 2004, where police practitioners, government officials, academics and researchers from 43 countries compared experiences and approaches, identified lessons learned and best practices, also produced practical research findings that can be applied elsewhere. Findings from research on the application of information technology to information sharing also has potential value for intelligence-led policing, while also providing us with evidence that police information sharing is improving.

Improving organizational and police officer competency has also been a research focus. One summary describes an examination of the knowledge-sharing practices of first-line police supervisors undertaken to contribute to the implementation of intelligence-led policing; revitalization of community-based policing and ethical policing. Another describes the management of change and the creation of problem-solving leaders in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Some of the research has a global scope, most notably in the article on opportunities for and lessons learned from development assistance and international police reform.

What most of these summaries demonstrate is a preoccupation with application, with improving what already exists. This raises the further question of how much of the rather modest amount of policing research undertaken in Canada is applied research, taking place within accepted paradigms, and how much is basic research devoted to escaping “the box” and searching for new frontiers of knowledge in policing. Only two or three of the present summaries have any theoretical content: the Ipperwash papers, one on transnational policing and another, which views the implementation of alternative dispute resolution for internal grievances and public complaints by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police through a neo-liberal lens.

While applied research is undoubtedly necessary for improving policing in the present, without a larger and more varied body of theoretical policing research in Canada, policing as a social and psychological construct, its continuing evolution, its place in the lives of Canadians, its importance as an institution of government, and its global character will be imperfectly understood by Canadian policy makers and police operational decision-makers alike. Without the necessary understanding and knowledge, decision-making is likely to be faulty. This is the same principle that underlies intelligence-led policing. Canada needs to invest in basic policing research as well as applied research if it is to exert any degree of control over the future destiny of policing in this country.