Key Lesson # 3 from Decision Science: a New Resource for Police Leaders. This lesson is an excerpt and you can download the full guide here.
Police performance depends on millions of decisions – at the frontline and in the board room. Can the sector strengthen its decision-making muscles by harnessing insights from decision sciences?
Key Lesson #3: Value Information – But Not For Its Own Sake
Decision-makers all need information to choose wisely. Who can forget the time that the bomb squad blew up a suspicious vehicle outside Workington Police station only to find it was there because fellow officers had parked it after helping its owner (who was unwell) and then failed to mention it to their colleagues? More seriously, who can forget the damning verdict of the Bichard Inquiry, which found systematic information sharing weaknesses that left Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at risk from Ian Huntley.
With the rise of various information-gathering tools – drones, CCTV, thermal imaging, cell tower analytics – there is more data available to policing than ever before. But today, policing needs to answer the question of how it ensures information is accessed when it is needed, and presented and processed in ways that support better decisions. While policing has made major progress in its data management, but there is a long way to go. To take one priority area, data quality remains dangerously poor, for example.
My belief is that we would make faster progress not by trying to collect ever-more data, but by focusing on the decisions policing needs to make regularly – and particularly those that drive police effectiveness. If we focus on decisions, we can then concentrate on providing (and quality assuring) the information that genuinely supports these decisions, building information formats that are easy to access and interpret, and creating feedback loops that allow officers and staff at all levels of policing to learn about the consequences of their decisions and actions.
This approach not dissimilar to the admirable data-driven policing approach being taken in Avon and Somerset, who have focused on creating user-friendly ‘apps’ based on requests from those working in the organization. But there may be opportunities to go further, including by:
- reminding decision-makers of overarching goals and priorities (see Lesson #1 in this series)
- presenting data in ways that overcomes some of our human weaknesses in understanding risk and probability
- building stronger feedback on the results of past decisions
- automating or partially automating decision-making when it is heavily rules-based
Of course, data collection and storage has become cheaper than ever before – and this trend will likely continue in the coming years. But we need to be supremely vigilant about the fact that data is worthless until it is interpreted and actually influences the decisions we make.
This is a version of an article produced for Police Professional.
You can download the full guide complete with all 7 key lessons for police leaders below.