East Midlands Police Research & Innovation

Centre for Exploratory Research

EMPAC’s purpose is to improve professional practice in cross border policing issues – to make it more effective and cut crime – by drawing upon the best research and innovation ideas. Whilst there is much ongoing confirmatory analytical work underway we offer additional complementary focus on exploratory research.

Exploratory research is in some ways more aggressive than analysis alone as it seeks to probe into known unknowns with a future orientated focus rather than a confirmatory retrospection.

Surprise attack

Policing is often taken by surprise by the sheer audacity and entrepreneurial nature of organised crime. This is not unique to policing as a phenomenon. Betts (1982) and Posner (2005) have both extensively documented intelligence failures in military contexts. Both conclude that mindset is a central issue in that structures, routine and ritual can cause a kind of cognitive bias. Given policing seeks ‘tried and tested’ ways, the blind spot impacts hardest on creativity and change, meaning too often law enforcement can be left picking up the pieces of the jigsaw after the event.

Doing more of the same in a changing world is not keeping up, it’s falling behind.

Banaji and Greenwalk (2016) and Forman (2020) examine cognitive bias blindspots and refer to the lack of cognitive diversity and command humility as fundamental problems that breed bias. This means there must be a receptivity to difference in thought and insight, and a willingness to learn and adapt fast: agility is a strength but can only come via an inductive outlook on tomorrow.

The psychology of offending

Whilst Ainsworth (2001) and Bartol (2005) offer much in terms of offender psychosocial profiling, Ormand (2020) perhaps offers more by recognising that thinking like the enemy is the key to unlocking criminal behaviour, not just as a game of chess, but as a game of poker. Having too much of a predictable routine, as policing has, means that the criminal can too often foretell policing’s every next move, leaving policing mopping up rather than getting ahead.

Ormand (ibid.) resonates with the extensive recount of war-time military intelligence proactive deception told by Rankin (2009), where strategic intelligence was not so much about just counting the past, or listening to the present, but about influencing the future, through hard thinking about the enemy’s motivations. strengths and weaknesses.

This, then, is a form of psychological wargaming as Hoffman (2017) advocates.

Doing research in a different way

Our Centre takes an approach which is about understanding criminal motivation and proactively scouting opportunities as its research ethos. There are clear overlaps with proactive strategic intelligence development, but those overlaps are purposeful, as so much intelligence analytical function has become confirmatory in nature and diverted to reactive investigative volume need that the big picture can often get missed.

As a collaborative research unit we explore what works but thrive on what if. We see research as exploratory enquiry into the future, to strengthen policing capability and preparedness. Rather than just problem profiling, we think about solution architecture.

Turning the tide

For too long creativity has been weaponised by criminals against the vulnerabilities of the public and we seek to turn the tide: to proactively equip policing with additional agility and proactive insight to take law enforcement up stream.

Contact our Principal Researcher, Dr John Coxhead, at john.coxhead@empac.org.uk.

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