What if some negatives could be changed by breaking from our norms and implementing evidence-based policing into our decisions as leaders? When do police leaders make the shift?

Evidence-based policing

We are aware of some of the less than favorable costs it takes to be called “one of the proud ones.” The list sometimes seems endless, but still, few officers complain about their calling. They own their awesome responsibility, proudly make sacrifices, and uphold their oath as peacekeepers with honor. Those who pin on their badge get “it” and thankfully we have the support of so many who make “it” worthwhile.

With these things in mind, what if some of these negatives could be changed by breaking from our norms and implementing science, academia, and research into our decision-making process as leaders?

The problem with shift work . . .

It is documented that shift work interrupts our circadian rhythm. These rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral and follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.  The importance of maintaining this cycle is necessary to the physical and psychological wellbeing, safety, and efficiency of humans. When interrupted with shift work, sleep patterns can contribute to poor outcomes for our nation’s finest. Fatigue, heart disease, a risk of cancer, lower life expectancy, and worthy to mention, a higher use of force rate and diminished productivity level are possible results.

With an understanding of the problem available and consideration to our 24/7-365 calling, there is no perfect solution. However, research is trending toward permanent shifts as an answer that doesn’t negatively impact officers or those we serve. Despite the research and solutions offered, many agencies won’t change paths. Thousands of officers will work several different shifts for their departments this month, many will switch schedules multiple times this week, and some don’t know tomorrow’s schedule. So, what’s the holdup?


Firearms training . . .

An often referred to study conducted by FBI instructors Anthony Pinizzotto, Edward Davis, and Charles Miller titled ‘Officers’ Perpetual Shorthand,’ reported 682 police officer line of duty deaths between 1989 and 1998 and the statistics surrounding those deaths.  Of those 682, nearly 75 percent received fatal wounds while within 10 feet of their assailants. Data such as this indicates that 75 percent of police officer firearm training conducted should be geared toward dynamic situations at distances within 10 feet of targets if we are providing a realistic training experience.

More recently, the Bureau of Justice Statistics noted in 2013 that 27 police officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty; 26 killed by gunfire. During the same year, 10 of the 26 officers were killed in the cold months of December and February; half of those deaths occurred overnight. With this data, our training should incorporate at least some aspect of ‘night fire’ and inclement weather, yet many agencies meet only minimum requirements.

Obstacles are plenty, embrace change from evidence-based policing . . .

Let’s face it; most of us are not doctors who understand the harsh complications of shift work or firearms experts who can develop the perfect training program. However, the severity of the need to consider relevant evidence to make decisions or confront problems is open for all to see. So, what is stopping us from initiating change?

I refuse to submit that administrators do not care about their officers. No person comes to work to fail and the very nature of our profession is based on being servants. Having played and coached football for nearly two decades, then becoming a police supervisor, I see similarities between football coaches and police leaders. The good coaches embrace change, constantly improve, and adapt. They win or are in the position to win for a long time. The ones who don’t simply can’t sustain success. The difference is we are talking about a game of football vs. life and death with policing.

Being reactive, traditional, or conditioned are not the only reasons why administrators fail to address the issues they face. There are internal and external forces to consider and they are faced with a myriad of responsibilities. Policing also comes with a price and budgetary constraints at the local, state, and federal levels which, cause officials to do more with less.

Make it your agenda to adapt as a leader . . .

Departments are filled with highly skilled and technical leaders who have been performing the job for a very long time. You may be one of them. Some embrace change and are proactive in improving. Despite obstacles, they remain open-minded, resourceful and creative. Others are susceptible to the adage; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, leaders who fail to recognize the need for proactive change or the importance of evidence-based decision making may be letting down their agencies. No leader wants to hear that what has allowed them to go “42” in one piece for decades can be what causes their failure. They won’t believe the safety net they’ve created by being comfortable in their environment, leaning on past successes, or becoming stagnant with their methodology are formidable obstacles to implementing change. Be the leader who realizes no matter how much technical skill, knowledge, or success you’ve had, times are changing, and there are ways to improve. There are people considered experts from past eras of policing, but no one has mastered modern policing.


Leaders must make the shift and commit to the focus of proactively utilizing evidence-based research to guide their decision-making process. This mindset can be used to address complex or simple issues and nearly every problem or decision has tools to address them available. Take the research conducted by the FBI or the data from the BJS to form a committee and improve current policy. Phone another department to see how they handled a problem. Don’t be afraid to reach outside of our arena: scholars and leaders from different industries have battled complex issues and won. Never become complacent in the way you confront the challenges and demands of our constantly changing communities. A new breed of leader must emerge and make this type of thinking the focus at their department. Adaptation is difficult, but the good news it starts with you, those you command, and the next person you hire.

Joe Woodland is police sergeant from the Greater St. Louis area. He has experience as a detective, patrol officer, and special operations officer. His education background includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice and he is currently a Ph.D. student studying organizational leadership. He is a generalist instructor in the State of Missouri and his training is highlighted in areas related to patrol/investigative tactics, leadership, ethics, supervision, and instruction. You can connect with me on LinkedIn.