The Importance of Evidence

Guest Blogger: Wendy Stiver, Major, Dayton Police Department, Ohio

In Dayton, Ohio, we’ve seen firsthand as an agency what doesn’t work to effectively respond to the opioid epidemic. Between 2011 and 2017, our county death rate due to opioid overdose increased from 130 deaths per year to 559. The data clearly demonstrates that traditional responses have not worked to reduce harm, but we have made progress by embracing different approaches. Dayton Police Chief Richard S. Biehl and the members of the police department have led innovative and data-driven projects to understand how we can more effectively respond to the opioid crisis within our community, and craft more effective and evidence-based responses to crime, disorder, and community conflict.

In 2016, I became a Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Scholar, after becoming interested in the program during a research project with Wright State University and our local public health department. LEADS is a National Institute of Justice program that helps mid-career law enforcement officers develop research capacity and supports the use of research to inform law enforcement policies and practices. Through this program, I’ve become a proponent of using data and research, particularly randomized control trials, to inform what we do.

My current research on officer trauma was inspired by the NIJ plenary session at my first IACP Annual Conference in 2016. As much as the opioid crisis affects our community, it also affects our officers. I’ve become particularly interested in the effect of trauma on officers—especially the cumulative effect of “sub-critical” secondary trauma. Sub-critical incidents are those that might be treated as routine calls and do not receive the follow-up or aftercare of a critical incident. Our officers frequently encounter opiate overdoses and deaths, fatal crashes, infant deaths, homicides, and domestic violence as a matter of daily work. In my research, I have worked with our crime analyst to assess the quantity and frequency of patrol officer exposure to such incidents. Before we can understand the impact of cumulative trauma exposure, we need clear data to demonstrate how our officers are exposed to such events.

Analyzing the data, we found that one cross-section of patrol division officers responded to a much higher-than-average share of sub-critical incidents. This group included officers who remained in the same assignment during a calendar year with no extended absences, and led to questions about the nature of assignments, degree of commitment to current assignment, and self-managed exposure. Dr. Danielle Gainer at Wright State University is analyzing the impact on our officers, particularly in light of the opiate crisis.

Why is this kind of research important? Employing evidence-based policies and practices is important for law enforcement because we have an obligation at the most basic level to understand what works and what doesn’t. To know how to most effectively invest our limited resources, it’s critical to have an idea of whether or not what we’re doing is effective, and whether there might be a better way.

Thinking about the opioid epidemic and how it affects our officers is just one area in which Dayton has implemented evidence-based projects. I have also led projects to consider more effective responses to infant mortality. When the data showed us that officers have frequent contact at traffic stops with parents during pregnancy and that mothers had limited access to prenatal care, we could see an opportunity for intervention. We designed a referral program for traffic stops that protects personal health information while increasing access to prenatal care. Approaching infant mortality through traffic enforcement isn’t an intuitive approach, but the data showed us that this made more sense than traditional crib programs.

For those who question why the police would be interested in infant mortality and birth outcomes, the answer lies in evidence. There are a number of studies that show that early intervention can reduce juvenile delinquency and criminality. It makes sense for the police to support an effort that will lighten our load in the future, make our communities safer, and ensure our resources are available to provide high-quality emergency services.

The Dayton Police Department has also partnered with Dr. Cory Haberman at the University of Cincinnati to examine the impact of a downtown foot patrol program. The final analysis of the foot patrol program revealed that short focused foot patrols prevented 81 crimes in our downtown.

These and other evidence-based efforts are working to reduce crime, which is helping support a cultural change in the downtown patrol division, where our officers are asked to embrace Tourism Oriented Policing concepts. We hope to carry out many additional evidence-based projects in the future. In all the research projects we take on, we try to answer fundamental questions about how we can better understand and respond to the problems our community faces. At the core of our research lies a key question: what works?

Data-driven research projects are challenging. Despite the growing cadre of professional crime analysts, we have limited abilities to accurately interpret and apply data. Moving from theoretical results to a practical response can sometimes feel like an overwhelming proposition. Often, the studies I conduct lead to more questions than they answer. Still, I’m a proponent of law enforcement agencies using data and research to inform their decisions. In order to ensure our policies and practices are effectively keeping the communities safe, research and empirical evidence are necessities to the advancement of policing. Without research and empirical evidence, we can’t answer the most important question of all: are the policies and practices we implement to keep our communities safe working?

For more information on the Center for Police Research and Policy, please visit

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