Northern powerhouse: Police research partnerships are forging ahead

This article was originally published by Andrew Staniforth in Policing Insight

The creation of the Northern 8 Police Research Partnership is transforming the relationship between police and academics, bringing unique perspectives and practical solutions to policing issues. Policing Insight contributor and Senior Research Fellow at CENTRIC Andrew Staniforth takes a closer look at the N8 PRP  

The College of Policing’s drive towards evidence-based approaches to policing has given affect to greater and improved collaboration between universities and police forces. The increased partnership between policing and academia has been achieved by the efforts of forward-thinking police officers who continue to reverse the longstanding culture of institutional resistance to outside interference.

Moreover, the strength of police and academic partnerships has been accomplished by academics developing inter-disciplinary approaches within their Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s), being traditionally categorised as rigid and unintegrated, with their linked interests divided by faculties that did not exist in the real world.

Catalyst for change

Of course, police forces and universities have worked together for many years but examples of effective collaboration between universities and police organisations were rare, and the professional partner relationship was very different to the one we see today. Collaboration between university departments themselves was previously lacking, collaboration with others – outside of the academic sphere – was in even shorter supply. Evidence of research with the police could be found, on some occasions where researchers were called in by policy-makers to evaluate programmes on the basis of pre-designed questions in a linear model of a customer-contractor relationship.

For the most part though, the field remained dominated by research on the police, designed, directed and carried out by academic researchers. But the desire of police officers and academics over recent years to work together to amplify Evidence-Based Policing (EBP), has resulted in collaborative networks that are bringing about positive change in police practice.

Theory and practice

One of the most established networks currently in operation is the Northern 8 Police Research Partnership (N8 PRP). Recently celebrating its fifth anniversary, the N8 PRP serves as a platform for collaborations between universities, Police and Crime Commissioners, police forces and partner organisations in research, knowledge exchange and training opportunities.

The N8 PRP benefits from significant, world-leading research expertise in policing from the consortia which incorporates the research-intensive universities of: Durham; Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and York. The new relationships forged through this partnership, including eleven police forces and their Police and Crime Commissioners in the North of England, are achieving international excellence in policing research and impact, helping to address contemporary problems of policing.

During December 2013, the N8 PRP secured funding from the College of Policing under its Innovation Capacity Building Fund to support the N8 PRP’s co-production activities. As a result, the N8 PRP has been serving as a ‘regional hub’ working with the College of Policing to embed research evidence into professional police thinking and practice. The programme of work is designed to have far reaching impact on policy and professional practice realised through the exploitation of research co-production.

When establishing the police and academic partnership, Professor Adam Crawford of the School of Law at the University of Leeds and the Director of the N8 PRP, stated: “We want to transform the relationship between police users and academic researchers so that we co-produce the knowledge that will inform and improve the policing strategies of the future.”

Professor Crawford went on to explain: “This is a fantastic opportunity to combine the intellectual power and research excellence of eight leading Universities with the resources, data, capabilities and practical skills of policing partners across the north of England. Together, we now have an opportunity to transform the relationship between police and universities and make a real difference to public safety through cutting edge research and knowledge exchange that will deliver collaborative advantage.”

Innovation and investment

Innovation lies at the heart of the N8 PRP’s strategy and programme of activities. This demands of all N8 PRP’s partners to do things differently and in ways that respond to the challenges of social change, technological developments, new opportunities and emerging research evidence. The annual Policing Innovation Forum has therefore come to constitute a major event in the calendar and a dynamic ‘engine’ of innovation of the N8 PRP programme, fostering new research-practice synergies, identifying novel research opportunities, stimulating knowledge exchange and driving innovation.

The Policing Innovation Forum provides an engagement platform at which key partners around a particularly topical issue of policing are brought together to explore forms of innovation, partnerships and collaboration that are engendered by the very nature of the policing problem itself. Ideas generated via the Policing Innovation Forum are welcomed as proposals for small grants that link to other N8 PRP activity strands and ensure stakeholder involvement in the choice of topics for research co-production. The Small Grants Awards open call provides pump-priming funds to support research into targeted and important areas of policing work and areas where the gaps in knowledge are most prominent and where research benefits are of greatest value.

The Small Grants Awards provide the necessary flexibility to move swiftly to respond to emergent areas of policing, new challenges and pressing concerns. For current members of the N8 PRP the Small Grants Awards round for applications is now open and will close on 17 January 2019. Applications for funding over the next 12 months are welcomed by jointly produced proposals from teams of researchers and policing practitioners for seed-corn funding of up to £25,000 for innovative research projects. N8 PRP are particularly keen to encourage applications that address the theme of Policing Mental Health by improving services, reducing demand, and keeping people safe.

Research to reality

The success generated from the N8 PRP Small Grant Awards has demonstrated how significant research findings with considerable impact can be fostered with small levels of investment and a large dose of enthusiasm, commitment and institutional support from within a partnership framework that nurtures knowledge co-creation. Moreover, the framework of the N8 PRP has, for the very first time, brought the eleven police forces in the north together where they are now sharing effective practices, discussing operational challenges and identifying common research requirements to better protect the communities they serve.

Today, evidenced by initiatives such as the N8 PRP, it is fair to say that more and improved collaboration between police and universities is taking place. Within universities, interdisciplinarity is gaining a foothold and academics are now working more closely with colleagues they scarcely knew existed and with police practitioners who once appeared distant. As a direct result, academic research is being brought to operational reality. Police officers themselves are also coming round to the idea that they themselves cannot begin to fully understand nor tackle the complexity of contemporary security hazards. From combating terrorism, cybercrime and modern slavery, to reducing burglary, violent crime and addressing issues of mental health, police officers are beginning to understand that collaborating with academic experts can provide unique perspectives and practical solutions to address their policing challenges.

This article was originally published by Andrew Staniforth in Policing Insight

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