Evidence-Based Policing

Frequently Asked Questions



The members of the California Police Chiefs Association are committed to effectively serving our communities through fair and equitable exercise of the authority entrusted to us.  We recognize how the accuracy we uphold in our enforcement mechanisms is a pathway to public trust and a means of alignment with those we serve.  As law enforcement executives, we also understand how operational certainty and clarity of purpose make our policing actions safer both for members of law enforcement as well as the community.  As an association, we clearly see how attaining these mandates requires valid study and assessment of our practices and functioning.  An evidence-based examination is a major aspect of how we can gain this critical insight.  For these reasons, the California Police Chiefs Association has assembled the materials appearing below and has firmly established the purpose of being part of assimilating these methods in the future of our profession. 


These Frequently Asked Questions are intended to help practitioners, policymakers and community members better understand what evidence-based policing is, what it isn’t and how it can improve the effectiveness of the police and improve the level of trust and confidence the community has in the police. Several sections have hyperlinks that will provide the reader with a more comprehensive discussion of the topic and links to resources the reader may find useful.


What is Evidence-Based Policing (EBP)?

The term “Evidence-Based Policing” originates from a 1998 Police Foundation “Ideas in American Policing” lecture and subsequent publication by world-renowned criminologist Lawrence Sherman. Since Sherman coined the term, much work has been done to try and apply scientific methods as organizational philosophy and operating principles.


Essentially, evidence-based policing is an organizational philosophy that advocates for the use of the best available scientific evidence about what strategies are effective to control crime and disorder (i.e., what “really works”). As a philosophy that overlays the entire organization, its principles can also be applied to every aspect of organizational life. This includes topics such as enhancing officer safety and wellness, human resources, and the “business” processes necessary to operate the organization (e.g., overtime, budgeting, building, and fleet maintenance, etc.). It is conceptually similar to evidence-based medicine, evidence-based management, and evidence-based policy.


Why is EBP important?

EBP helps the police become more effective, efficient, and equitable. And it helps enhance an agency’s perception of legitimacy by reducing the reliance on strategies based on opinion or “the way we’ve always done it.” Replacing them with scientific, evidence-based approaches, or providing evidence that the existing strategies are effective, enhances policing legitimacy and addresses the argument that police activities are arbitrary and/or biased. By using evidence-based strategies, the police can more effectively control or even prevent crime. Organizational resources can be allocated optimally, increasing efficiency. Finally, inequity can be addressed, serving to produce more just outcomes among disadvantaged communities.


Learn more about EBP