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Resistance to Evidence-Based Policing: Canadian Police Executives’ Perceptions as to Which Level of Canadian Policing is Most Resistant

Police Practice and Research, 22(1), 763–776. https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2020.1786690

Published onJul 03, 2020
Resistance to Evidence-Based Policing: Canadian Police Executives’ Perceptions as to Which Level of Canadian Policing is Most Resistant
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Abstract:

Despite the global growth of evidence-based policing (EBP), there remains a resistance to change within police organizations that ultimately impedes the adoption of evidence-based practices. As a means of identifying which level of policing is most resistant to EBP, the present study describes results from interviews with 38 sworn and civilian Canadian police executives on their perceptions as to which level of policing – leadership, middle management, or the frontline – is most resistant. The results indicate that although there was no consensus among our participants, the middle management level was perceived as most resistant to EBP for a wide array of reasons. Ultimately, the results have practical implications for police practice that surround the need for a greater adoption of change.

Keywords: Evidence-Based Policing; Resistance; Receptivity; Change; Management

Corresponding Author: Jacek Koziarski – [email protected]

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Police Practice & Research, following peer review. The version of record, Koziarski, J. & Kalyal, H. (2021). Resistance to Evidence-Based Policing: Canadian Police Executives’ Perceptions as to Which Level of Canadian Policing is Most Resistant. Police Practice & Research, is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2020.1786690. When citing, please cite the version of record.

Introduction

The paradigm of engaging in practice that is based on evidence has been introduced to, or has been adopted by, many disciplines to date (e.g., Cullen, Myer, & Latessa, 2009; Gray, Joy, Plath, & Webb, 2013; Melnyk, Fineout-Overholt, Gallagher-Ford, & Kaplan, 2012; Rousseau & Gunia, 2016). Like these other disciplines, evidence-based practice has also entered into policing. Evidence-based policing (EBP) stems from the work of Sherman (1998, p. 4), who defined the term as using “…. research to guide and evaluate practitioners. It uses the best evidence to shape the best practice. It is a systematic effort to parse out and codify unsystematic ‘experience’ as the basis for police work, refining it by ongoing systematic testing of hypotheses.” In other words, EBP is concerned with empirically determining ‘what works’ and subsequently employing the generated evidence into practice.

Since first being coined over two decades ago, efforts in determining ‘what works’ in policing and subsequently disseminating that evidence among and between practitioners and academics have been bountiful. From the creation of knowledge translation tools (e.g., Lum, Koper, & Telep, 2011) and EBP-specific journals (Murray, 2019), to Societies of Evidence-Based Policing located in Australia/New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Spain who promote and engage in local EBP-related work (Mitchell, 2019), these efforts work in tandem to make empirical evidence a larger part of contemporary policing. As a result, the landscape is undoubtedly ripe for the police to incorporate EBP into their organizations. However, in practice, adoption of EBP has been rather slow. Previous research on EBP and policing more generally suggests that this may be the case for a wide multitude of factors, such as policing experience being viewed as more important than evidence in a decision-making process (Telep & Lum, 2014), or that the police institution itself is generally resistant to change (Duxbury, Bennell, Halinski, & Murphy, 2017; Sherman, 2015). These factors may be an additional obstacle for police executives who may not only wish to adopt EBP within their organizations as a means of being more effective with their operations, but also as a means of finding efficiencies that can stem from pressures outside of the agency, such as budgetary limitations (Heaton & Tong, 2016; Huey & Ricciardelli, 2016).

To date, the voices of police executives have been rather absent within the literature on EBP generally, and specifically within the context of EBP receptivity and adoption. Therefore, in order to develop a better understanding of police executives’ perceptions on these issues, the present study draws upon in-depth qualitative interviews with Canadian police executives, as well as members of Canadian police research organizations, to gather their thoughts as to which level of the Canadian policing organization – leadership, middle management, or the frontline – is most resistant to adopting EBP, and why. To begin, we briefly review the extant literature on EBP, EBP receptivity, as well as barriers to EBP adoption. However, because this body of literature is relatively small, we also draw upon literature on hierarchical resistance to change from other disciplines to provide a more robust understanding of the organizational factors that may influence EBP resistance at different levels of a policing organization. Subsequently, we present our methodology and results, and then conclude with a discussion on how hierarchical resistance to EBP can be overcome.

Literature Review

Evidence-Based Policing

Inspired by developments within the medical field that led to evidence-based medicine, in his seminal piece for the Police Foundation – Ideas in American Policing: Evidence-Based Policing – Sherman (1998) argued for policing and police decision-making to shift from the oft incorrect ‘facts’ that at times stem from experience and intuition, towards empirical evidence. This, however, is not to say that experience and intuition does not have a place within policing; but rather that experience and intuition-based ideas be empirically tested as opposed to being employed in practice with the belief that they ‘work’ (Fleming & Rhodes, 2018; Sherman, 2015; Willis & Mastrofski, 2018).

This empirical testing, as Sherman (2013) suggests, should be conducted through what he calls the ‘Triple-T’ strategy: the targeting of a policing problem; the implementation and subsequent testing of a strategy for said problem; and the tracking of the strategy over time to ensure it is attaining its desired outcome(s). In the event that the desired outcome(s) are not being achieved, the strategy should be adjusted and subsequently re-tested and re-tracked over time (Sherman, 2013). Furthermore, the testing of the strategy should ideally be conducted through rigorous, ‘gold-standard’ experimental or quasi-experimental methods in an effort to causally determine whether the strategy was effective (Sherman, 1998, 2013). While the use of experimental methods within policing research has certainly increased within the last few decades (Braga, Welsh, Papachristos, Schnell, & Grossman, 2014), they are not universally applicable nor appropriate in some circumstances (e.g., Watson, Compton, & Draine, 2017). Thus, such instances would call for the most appropriate methods to generate the ‘best available evidence’ on the strategy in question (Sherman, 1998, 2013).

Although some scholars have brought to light that the current scope of EBP may be too narrowly focused on evaluating frontline crime prevention efforts (Koziarski & Lee, 2020; Telep, 2016), significant and beneficial empirical progress has been made in policing since it shifted from a dependence on the ‘traditional model’ – that is, random patrol, rapid response, and reactive investigations – to new innovations within the 1990s (Sherman, 2013). For instance, we now have strong bases of evidence on several effective policing practices, such as hot spots policing (Braga, Turchan, Papachristos, & Hureau, 2019), problem-oriented policing (Goldstein, 1979; Weisburd, Telep, Hinkle, & Eck, 2008, 2010), and focused deterrence (Braga, Weisburd, & Turchan, 2019). Therefore, practitioners who employ any of these practices can be confident that they are engaging in a form of policing that ‘works’. Contrastingly, through empirical scrutiny we have also come to generate important evidence which reveals that some policing practices may be ineffective or even harmful. For instance, the evidence on Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) not only suggests that the program is ineffective at reducing drug and alcohol use in adolescence (Rosenbaum, 2007; Telep & Weisburd, 2012; West & O’Neal, 2004), but that in some circumstances D.A.R.E. resulted in a backfire effect where drug and alcohol use increased (Sloboda et al., 2009).

Ultimately, as Sherman (1998) states, the crucial objective of EBP is not only to generate evidence on various areas of policing, but to employ and depend upon this evidence in everyday practice. However, several factors, such as knowledge about EBP, receptivity towards EBP, as well as resistance to change within police organizations can make this feat immensely difficult to achieve.

Receptivity to Evidence-Based Policing & Adoption

The American literature on EBP receptivity has shown that receptivity can be diminished even prior to one beginning their policing career. In a survey of police academy recruits, Grieco (2016) found that recruits tend to have a positive outlook towards EBP at the beginning of their training, but upon the completion of training, receptivity towards EBP dropped. However, other research has found that some who are already officers may not have even heard of the term ‘EBP’ to begin with. For instance, Telep and Lum (2014) found that in two of the three agencies they surveyed, just over a quarter had heard the term. Findings specifically with respect to police leaders appear more optimistic with most appearing to be familiar with the term ‘EBP’ (Telep & Winegar, 2016). Although, even those who are familiar with the term, may not be able to define it, nor highlight its key concepts. Telep and Somers (2019) found that of those in their sample who provided a definition of EBP, less than 5% provided a definition that included all the key concepts of EBP. They also found that approximately 10% of the definitions that they received included some form of reference to forensics or case evidence, neither of which are related to EBP (Mitchell, 2019; Telep & Somers, 2019).

Moreover, it has been noted that officers seldom read academic journals or professional magazines, and tend to receive information pertaining to the effectiveness of a particular policing approach from their own organization (Telep & Lum, 2014). Police leaders, on the other hand, tend to consult outside research to inform their decision-making process, but tend to consult sources where academics seldom publish (Rojek, Alpert, & Smith, 2012; Telep & Winegar, 2016). Furthermore, when contrasting officer perceptions and the literature with respect effectiveness of certain crime reduction strategies, the findings tend to be a bit mixed with some officer perceptions being more aligned to the literature than others, particularly so for police leaders (Telep & Lum, 2014; Telep & Winegar, 2016). Promisingly, though, a large majority of participants within the available literature have indicated that they would be at least somewhat willing to conduct a study or approach a researcher to test whether a particular police tactic was effective, and upwards of 70% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that collaborations with researchers were necessary for a police agency to improve its ability to reduce crime (Telep & Lum, 2014; Telep & Winegar, 2016). However, a large majority of officers still believe that officer experience should encompass three-or-more quarters of an officer’s decision-making process (Telep & Lum, 2014).

Shifting from the American context, EBP literature in other locales, such as the United Kingdom, has shown that while officers are far more familiar with EBP, officers tend to have a varied understanding about what it is, with some interpreting it as a ‘buzzword’ (Lumsden, 2017; Lumsden & Goode, 2018). Questions also arise within the British literature with respect to issues that can impede the implementation of EBP, such an organizational culture which may not accept critical findings of an evaluation or a lack of resources (Fleming & Wingrove, 2017; Lumsden, 2017). The Canadian literature similarly finds that organizational barriers, such as a lack of communication about EBP, police culture, a lack of resources, or even a lack of confidence in external researchers can impede the adoption of EBP in Canadian police organizations (Kalyal, 2019a), or may even impede processes of EBP-related work that may already be ongoing within an organization (Huey, Blaskovits, Bennell, Kalyal, & Walker, 2017).

Promisingly, though, a Canadian replication of Telep and Lum’s (2014) work found that not only are Canadian officers more familiar with the term ‘EBP’ in contrast to their American colleagues, but are also more likely to engage in other EBP-related aspects, such as reading journals, consulting sources beyond their agency with respect to effectiveness, and giving greater weight to scientific knowledge in the decision-making process (Blaskovits et al., 2018). However, for other aspects, Blaskovits et al. (2018) found that Canadian officers did not differ very much from their American colleagues. In fact, other research has found that there appear to be some myths and misconceptions about EBP in the Canadian context. For instance, some Canadian officers tend to believe that EBP can lead to officers being taken off the frontline, an increased workload, or neglected officer input (Huey, Blaskovits, Bennell, Kalyal, & Walker, 2019).

Hierarchical Resistance to Change

Efforts to introduce reforms such as evidence-based practices in police organizations are generally met with resistance from various levels in the hierarchy. The reluctance to change is not surprising, given the fact that most changes are either imposed from outside the organization, or forced down the hierarchy by top management (Duxbury et al., 2017). As police organizational structures comprise tall hierarchies, every level adds further complexity to the overall resistance to new initiatives. It is therefore important to address the causes of such resistance from top managers to frontline police officers.

Skogan (2008) has provided some insight into resistance from various levels in police organizations. Police leaders generally exhibit risk aversion while middle managers and frontline officers are affected by stressors such as role ambiguity, conflict and overload as a result of change in operations (Bayley, 2008; Skogan, 2008). Middle managers are especially affected by role ambiguity and arising conflict sparked by organizational changes as their role that links top leadership and frontline officers is affected by unfamiliar work practices (Harding et al., 2014). Frontline officers are usually not involved in any organizational change initiatives, despite their central role in the actual implementation of such initiatives (Bayley, 2008). The lack of communication between various organizational levels and a militaristic culture steeped in tradition, makes any change effort difficult to implement in police organizations.

Methodology

Study Context & Data Collection

Data for the present study are based on in-depth interviews with police executives across Canada. The purpose of these interviews was to understand the factors leading to resistance and receptivity towards EBP among Canadian police services. Policing within Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories is administered by 181 police services: 141 municipal, 36 First Nations, three provincial (Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Sûreté du Québec), and one federal (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) (Conor, 2018). During the data collection year – 2017 – there were 98,077 individuals employed in full-time positions across these services, 69,025 (70.4%) of which were sworn officers and 29,052 (29.6%) were in civilian positions. Of the sworn officers, 47,817 (69.3%) were at the rank of Constable, 17,704 (25.6%) were in middle management (i.e., Sergeants, Staff-Sergeants, etc.), and 3,504 (5.1%) were in executive ranks (i.e., Inspectors to Chiefs)1 (Statistics Canada, 2020).

Given the scope of our research, our sample was limited to strategic decision-makers in police organizations (i.e., executive sworn members – Inspectors to Chiefs), executive level civilian officers of police organizations, as well as members of police research organizations based in Canada’s nine primarily English-speaking provinces. In a few cases (n = 4) officers below the executive ranks were also included in the sample as they were actively involved in EBP activities. We drew our sample from member agencies of the Canadian Society of Evidence-Based Policing (CAN-SEBP), which was established in 2015 to provide a platform to police researchers and practitioners for the generation and dissemination of research. CAN-SEBP membership was assumed to be an indicator of leadership’s support for EBP.

After receiving research ethics approval, we emailed all 24 partner organizations listed as members on the CAN-SEBP website in April 2017. Thirty-eight officers and civilian staff members from 16 police services – representing 9% of the total number of services in Canada – and four police research organizations across seven primarily English-speaking Canadian provinces agreed to be interviewed. All interviews were audio recorded with the consent of the participants and each lasted approximately for 30-45 minutes. A semi-structured interview guide containing six open-ended questions, along with corresponding probing questions, led our approach. The guide focused exclusively on receptivity and resistance towards EBP in Canadian police services. Herein, we present results to the following resistance-related question: In your view, which level in your organization is most resistant to evidence-based policing practices?, focusing specifically on executives’ perceptions as to why officers at various levels – leadership, middle management, or the frontline – resist EBP.

Sample Characteristics. The respondents for the current study included executive police officers (n = 29), civilian executives (n = 5), and members of police research organizations in Canada (n = 4). A majority of the respondents were male (n = 34) with only four (n = 4) female participants. The sample included 16 medium-to-large urban police services from seven (n = 7) English-speaking Canadian provinces. The police services in our sample indicated that they had implemented several forms of evidence-based approaches to policing, such as hot spots policing or problem-oriented policing, but that they were either internally initiated and driven by top management officials through self-study or through networking with other agencies and researchers. Thus, within the participating police services, it is suggested that EBP is not a key organizational component; rather, it is something that is driven by a select few within the organization or aided by actors outside of the organization.

Data Analysis

The data within the present study were analyzed using an inductive, thematic approach developed by Braun and Clarke (2006) which allows for themes to emerge from the data through a repetitive and non-linear reading of interview transcripts, as opposed to being dependent upon a theoretical or contextual framework. This type of approach is fruitful in exploratory research, or in areas where the body of research is underdeveloped – as is the case regarding research on the receptivity to EBP, especially in the Canadian context.

The present analysis involved independent coding by the authors, who read and re-read the interview transcripts before independently engaging in open coding which allowed for broader themes to emerge from the data. Subsequently, the open codes were re-organized into even more specific themes, and the authors compared their results to ensure coding consistency. In the section that follows, we present the themes that emerged from our data, which are organized by where in the police hierarchy – leadership, middle management, or frontline – respondents felt there to be the least receptivity to EBP.

Results

Leadership

For the most part, few participants (n = 7) identified that resistance to EBP in Canadian policing stems from their colleagues at the same level as them – police executives. Nevertheless, one Chief identified that some police leaders “… are fighting … the resistance to change, the resistance to the new world of policing, [and] the resistance of the new world or the voice of the community.” This Chief further elaborated that the resistance to EBP from police executives stems from EBP being perceived as a substantial amount of work and costly with respect to organizational realignment.

Other participants identified that, in their experience, it is much easier to get frontline officers interested and involved in EBP than police executives. For instance, one Superintendent identified ego as issue which leads to leadership resistance.

… dependant on what the project is, that they would have to admit that their strategies were ineffective or inaccurate. So, it’s a harder pill, I think, to swallow for say a Chief of Police or someone to say, “Okay, what I decided we did for the last five years was a poor decision and now evidence shows we should do whatever it is”. That might be a tougher conversation to have. For the lower levels, I mean, they’re fairly used to different strategies.

Other participants identified that leadership resistance to ‘brilliant ideas’ can result in frustration among those lower in the police organization. However, some participants identified that it may not necessarily be that police executives are resistant to EBP, but rather that police leaders are simply unaware about it. For instance, a Superintendent said:

So, evidence-based policing, although it probably dates back to the 90s, maybe 98 or something like that, and then early 2000, that’s still relatively new. And it’s not as if we [police executives] have these courses and opportunities or conferences or symposiums to go to on evidence-based policing...

Other participants echo this by saying that, in some contexts, things have already changed, not only in terms of police leadership, such as leadership being more highly educated than in the past, but also in the policing context more generally which demands effectiveness and efficiencies:

… accountability and transparency is at a much hyped level now. For us to be able to obtain funding and implement programs, we really have to provide evidence. And not just provide evidence to get funding, but also to receive it continually year after year after year. We have to show that we are being effective and efficient.

Despite the changes identified by participants at the leadership level, as well as more generally, most participants identified that resistance to EBP stems from the middle management level.

Middle Management

Some participants (n = 10) identified resistance to EBP from middle management due to their experience and their lack of exposure to research; whereas others attribute EBP to being a cultural shift where some middle managers might be too operationally-based to adopt the shift:

They are so operationally-based and not really administratively-based, and […] again […] that cultural shift […] That ability for them to actually trust that the research is well founded and is based some good hard work and extended research across multiple jurisdictions to try and identify what perhaps best new practices might be […] You know you may run into cultural attitudes certainly at the mid level management who have to deal with it [cultural shift] every single day and can’t get their mindset off that operational perspective.

Similarly, a Chief mentioned that resistance to EBP resides within the middle management level because of a lack of knowledge pertaining to the administrative side of policing:

… when you get to the Inspector rank, like the non-commissioned rank and higher, there is a greater understanding of police administration, of accountability and about finding efficiencies and validating programs and initiatives. Lower down, I think a lot of the officers feel “I’m just doing my job, so give me the resources to go do my job”.

Moreover, a Superintendent said that even when attempting to implement pilot programs that have the support of leadership, the pilots – or other attempted implementations – have resistance or a lack of support from middle managers, such as Staff Sergeants. This police executive attributed such resistance to, “… misconceptions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it […] [or] not [recognizing], well, this may be a way to help a longer-term strategy, to help address some of the needs”. Moreover, another participant indicated that involving middle management was a daunting task, and thus, when they attempted to change something, such as specific process or a task pertaining to a particular unit, they simply went right to the frontline to involve them in what they were attempting to accomplish.

Most notably, however, participants identified a potential consequence of middle management resistance to EBP. That is, the trickle-down effect that their attitudes toward EBP can have on the officers they are supervising and mentoring – the frontline. For example, one Superintendent said:

I think that the Sergeant level in Canadian policing is the most important level in the organization. Because you can have directions coming down from the executives, the Chief, the Deputies, etc. But if there’s no buy-in from the Sergeant level, to your Constables, the people who are actually going out and doing the daily work, creating the culture, then you won’t buy-in.

To this end, another police executive indicated that this skepticism or resistance to EBP from middle managers, which may then be passed along to the frontline, may be attributed to “… the lack of understanding of the science behind it.”

Frontline

In addition to how middle managers can affect the resistance of EBP within the frontline, participants (n = 7) also identified ways in which the frontline may be resistant to EBP themselves.

Moreover, another police executive suggested that resistance to EBP on the frontline may not actually stem from resistance to EBP, but rather the culture which can make data collection difficult:

I think it’s just the culture in the frontline where you’re the ones answering the calls in the middle of the night. So, when this happens, “can you please let us know” [recording data about specific calls for a study], and there’s always that kind of, “Oh great, another thing…” So, it’s not really resistance against the concept, but resistance to contributing to the data…

Relatedly, however, a Chief noted that the individuals on the frontline are far removed “… from the intent of a project, to the delivery of a project, and the people who experience it”. Thus, this participant emphasizes that if the frontline is not communicated to, or engaged with, they tend to be the biggest resistors to EBP. Building upon this need for communication with the frontline, a Deputy Chief said that frontline members “… will question and be maybe reluctant for change at times, but if we’re able to articulate the reasons why we’re imposing the change or bringing forth the change and we can back that up, I think the majority of members are good with that”. This police executive then goes on to elaborate on how the frontline at their service were reluctant to carry Naloxone with them on shift – a drug that reverses the symptoms of an overdose – but once they were informed of the research behind the drug, and how it is able to save lives, the frontline became open to carrying it.

All Levels

Finally, some police executives (n = 7) did not attribute EBP resistance to a particular rank on the police hierarchy, but rather attributed the resistance to all levels. For instance, one Staff Sergeant said that, “Certainly you need senior level buy-in but you also need it at all levels along the way to bring forward the ideas that we may not be thinking of.” Similarly, an Acting Inspector said resistance to EBP can depend on factors that may not be specific to a particular individual or rank: “I think it all depends on what type of change and how they affect people. So, it would inaccurate to say that managers would be more accepting of change than the practitioners. Well I don’t know if that’s true or not. It all depends.”

Furthermore, some participants identified that some within policing may worry about being over-researched, “… especially when there’s only [a] limited number of things you can change in the way police do their jobs.” However, many participants who identified that resistance to EBP lies within all levels, said that this resistance is not because of a particular rank, but because of officers who have been on the job for a long time. For example, one Inspector said:

I think it would be more senior staff as in time and not in rank that have not participated or continued along the line of education […] I find our top management is the most receptive to evidence-based policing. The old dog on the shift, your senior constables that haven’t continued their education and along those lines where “no research needs to tell me what to do” right?

Other participants attribute this resistance as something that is built over time while officers embed themselves into the culture of policing:

It’s not gunna necessarily be your brand-new people because people are still forming their expectations, still culturalizing [sic] to the organization for the first little while. But once you begin to get settled in, three to five years into your career… Up until [your] […] retirement date, this is the stuff where you begin to resist change.

In contrast, however, some participants have identified that although officers who may have been policing for decades are resistant to EBP, or change more generally, these officers are increasingly a “fading breed” and this Deputy Chief explained:

… the demographic in policing means that we have the old dinosaurs, if you will. I mean, they are a fading breed. So even at the frontline, the members who would have been, say fifteen years ago, resistant to more evidence-based decision-making, are really not present anymore […] I mean the whole hot spots nature of policing is widely accepted now, and that includes the rank and file.

Yet, despite the fact that change may be more accepted among newer officers, as one participant points out, police organizations still need individuals who are willing to adopt and embrace change:

You can find champions of resistance at all levels of the organization and, in fact, the trick is to identify the innovators, early adaptors who will embrace change. You need them, in fact, at all levels of the organization. You need champions, but you also need people who are gunna do the work to establish the change…

Discussion

Achieving change within policing organizations has historically been a difficult feat to accomplish (Duxbury et al., 2017; Sherman, 2015), even though, as one police executive alluded to, there are external demands for the police to not only be effective, but also efficient, which EBP can help facilitate. As a result, it may take some time before evidence-based practice becomes the standard within policing, as it has in other disciplines, such as medicine (Sherman, 2015). Although, as the bases of evidence incrementally grow for a wide variety of policing approaches consequently showing us what works and what does not, the slow adoption or resistance of EBP may be deemed as unethical practice (Mitchell & Lewis, 2017). Therefore, the question remains: how do we facilitate change within policing so that it can be less resistant to EBP? We re-introduce the literature on hierarchical resistance to change within organizations to help us shed light on a potential answer to this question.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the perspectives of Canadian police executives as to which level of Canadian policing – leadership, middle management, or the frontline – is most resistant to adopting EBP, and why. While it is important that our participant’s answers may have depended upon the context of their own police organization, at the leadership level, police executives identified that their colleagues at the same level are resistant to EBP because it is costly, a lot of work, or because some may simply be unaware of what EBP is. These results align with previous literature which suggests that the idea of employee empowerment associated with new initiatives makes police executives uncomfortable (Skogan, 2008). Like the managers of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X (1957), these leaders believe that frontline employees are incapable of assuming responsibility and are bound to fail the management if allowed to use their discretion (Skogan, 2008). Losing control over employees is a major concern among managers, especially in hierarchical and centralized public sector organizations such as the police. Leadership resistance to EBP therefore is not surprising as these initiatives call for the involvement of all hierarchical levels in the decision-making process and allowing all the freedom to use their judgment. Any untoward incident is likely to reflect poorly on the leadership, who therefore resist the decentralized management approach inherent in EBP initiatives.

Although only a few of our participants identified leadership resistance to be an issue, literature from several jurisdictions not only highlights that this level may be more receptive to EBP – as shown by Palmer’s (2011) work in the United Kingdom – but also emphasizes that the successful implementation of change depends on leadership support. For example, American research, such as the work of Jenkins (2016) on officers’ acceptance of broken windows and community problem-solving policing, shows that higher ranking officers are more supportive of these tactics and that acceptance of change is a top-down phenomenon. Similarly, Australian researchers Martin and Mazerolle (2016) ague that police leadership will have to take a more proactive approach by becoming change champions and creating pathways to EBP implementation.

Next, at the middle management level, which was considered the most resistant to EBP among our participants, participants identified reasons such as lack of research exposure, a lack of administrative knowledge, and cultural attitudes. Prior literature in policing also finds the middle management level to be particularly resistant to change (Harding, 2014; Kras et al, 2017; Skogan, 2008). Since these managers are a link between top management and those at the operational levels in any organization, they can filter and interpret a downward flow of information to serve their own interests and reshape the organization’s strategic direction (McCabe, 2011; Rouleau & Balogun, 2007). They may not wholeheartedly support the change process and only comply with the basic requirements (Jackall, 1988) which often leads to the derailment or failure of the change initiative (Herscovitch & Meyer, 2002).

The reason for middle management’s resistance to change lies in the routinization of their positions and the reduction of autonomy and growth opportunities over the years (Ogbonna & Wilkinson, 2003). This issue raises concerns regarding further loss of power and control with every new change in the organization. For instance, in his research on organizational resistance to change in American police organizations, Skogan (2008) argues that organizational changes that call for decentralization take power away from middle managers and hands it down the hierarchy to frontline officers. As restructuring takes place to accommodate new ways of management, organizations adopt leaner and flatter structures, abolishing middle levels to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Research also shows that organizational changes are especially stressful for middle managers as they experience more role conflict and role ambiguity due to their position between the upper and lower levels of the organization (Floyd & Lane, 2000).

Finally, at the frontline level, participants identified that this level is resistant because they are far-removed from the research process, and a lack of communication, among other reasons. Although our participants believed that the frontline was less resistant to change compared to middle managers, it is nevertheless important to determine why this level resists change. Frontline officers are not involved in decisions related to the development and implementation of new projects, which leads to resentment and resistance to change (Bayley, 2008). Skogan (2008) asserts that frontline officers are more skeptical about new programs compared to other levels and often dismiss them as fads. Similarly, earlier Canadian research reveals these officers are particularly averse to ideas imported from outside the police organization, as police culture considers civilians to be incapable of understanding police work (Kalyal, 2019a). Here role ambiguity, role conflict and overload are again factors that lead to frontline resistance to change. This is true particularly for new ideas that are more abstract and have not been operationalized into actionable tasks for the frontline officer. Reforms or ideas that expect officers to perform tasks that are unfamiliar or something they have not been adequately trained for are likely to generate role conflict and subsequent resistance to change (Skogan, 2008). Similarly, frontline officers resent additional tasks that are likely to increase their workloads in terms of more paperwork added to their daily operations. Ultimately, American (e.g., Lum et al., 2012; Telep & Lum, 2014; Wood et al., 2014) and British research (e.g., Palmer, 2011) suggests that greater effort is required to obtain buy-in from frontline officers as they not only tend to value field experience over research, but also when EBP efforts are attempted, they tend to be excluded from the planning and implementation phases.

Some police executives, however, decided against selecting one of the three levels provided to them during the interview by instead answering that, in some way, all levels of Canadian police organizations are resistant to EBP. This finding was not all too surprising and is further supported by the broader scope of our findings as a whole. That is, there is no consensus among the perspectives of our police executive participants with respect to which level of the police organization is most resistant to EBP. This suggests that the police institution as a whole is still resistant to new ideas and thus, change must occur at all levels of the policing hierarchy.

Practical Implications

The results of the present study point towards the importance of communicating the need for the importance of change to all organizational levels as identified by Kalyal (2019a). Starting with the leadership level, it is important to for them to act as champions of change to ensure the success of a new initiative (Kalyal et al., 2018; Oreg & Berson, 2011). However, the leaders as well as other levels in the organization must be provided with adequate information regarding new policing programs to reduce resistance and enhance acceptance to change. For this purpose, police organizations must ensure effective horizontal as well as lateral communication throughout the organization to address any misconceptions or concerns regarding EBP (Goodman & Truss; Kalyal, 2019a; Van der Voet, 2016).

Participation in the decision-making process about the implementation of EBP initiatives would not only create a sense of being valued among officers but would also lead to the reduction of resistance (Herold et al., 2007). Provision of training related to EBP would also help reduce resistance and possibly create champions of change who further promote such initiatives within the organization (Kalyal, 2019a). Prior research also suggests that involving police officers in the research process can help develop EBP strategies that would be more readily accepted by the police and would also help reduce the gap in communication that exists between police and outside researchers (Savignac & Dunbar, 2014).

Moreover, drawing on examples from medicine – the field which Sherman (1998) drew inspiration from to argue for policing based on empirical evidence – we can see a clear focus on the role of middle managers in facilitating the implementation of evidence-based practices. A systematic review by Birken and colleagues (2018) suggests a reciprocal relationship between middle managers and the implementation climate, which is the perceived support for the implementation of evidence-based practices in terms of rewards and recognition of efforts (Klein & Sorra, 1996). The importance of managing an organizational climate conducive to EBP implementation has also be identified by Kalyal (2019b) in her research on police organizations in Canada.

In another recent study, Williams et al. (2020) argue that middle managers, by enacting specific leadership behaviors such as being proactive and knowledgeable and showing support for evidence-based practices, can directly impact implementation climate. This influence is due to the middle manger’s unique position in the organization which enables them to act as a bridge between the decision-makers and implementers of new initiatives and their ability to guide and supervise clinical practice (Birken et al., 2013). Engle et al. (2017) have identified a set of strategies that middle managers could employ to ensure successful implementation of evidence-based practices in health care organizations. Some of these strategies include clear and timely communication; proactive problem solving; training specific to evidence-based initiatives; and creating a feedback loop to continuously improve the implementation process. The focus on the role of middle managers whether in medicine, policing, or any other industry would achieve the dual target of demonstrating the usefulness of evidence-based practices to the top management while creating a buy-in for the initiatives among frontline workers.

Limitations

Despite the interesting results, the present study is not without its limitations. First, data were collected only from police services that, to a certain extent, already support and have implemented EBP strategies. Future studies would benefit from including a sample of police services that have not yet implemented EBP to draw a comparison between the two groups. Second, data on organizational context was not collected, preventing us from situating EBP resistance within the organizational context of each respective participating service. Future work that examines EBP resistance within the context of the respective organization may yield important findings as to how resistance to EBP can be addressed. Third, the sample is largely comprised of urban, medium-to-large police services from seven provinces that were members of CAN-SEBP. This limits our ability to discuss resistance to EBP in small or rural services, services in provinces not represented in the sample, as well as services that have implemented EBP practices but are not CAN-SEBP members. Future studies would benefit from including these services within their work by generating a broader understanding of EBP resistance than is currently available within the Canadian context. Finally, the sample consisted of only executive-level police officers, which does not take into account the views of officers below the executive cadre, who could provide valuable insight into hierarchical resistance to change. This issue also can be resolved by a more inclusive sample in the future.

Conclusion

In spite of the fact that EBP has grown significantly within the last two decades, there remains a resistance to change within police organizations that ultimately impedes the adoption of evidence-based practices. This study sought to further explore this issue within the Canadian context through semi-structured interviews with Canadian police executives. We specifically sought executives’ perceptions as to which level of Canadian policing – leadership, middle management, or the frontline – is most resistant to EBP and why. Our results suggest that among our participants, the middle management level is perceived to be more resistant to EBP than other levels; however, the lack of consensus among our participants suggests that resistance is perceived to be present within all levels of Canadian policing.

While our research is unique for many reasons, such as the explicit focus on the perspectives of Canadian police executives as they relate to EBP resistance or examining this phenomenon at discrete levels of Canadian police organizations, the findings of this study only seem to reinforce those of earlier research: much more work – both empirically and in practice – is required to address issues related to EBP receptivity and adoption. More specifically, there is an increasing need for greater communication, information sharing, embedding ‘champions’ of change, and more inclusive decision-making processes as facilitators of change that may ultimately lead to less resistance to EBP within police organizations, and thus greater adoption of EBP as a result.

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