Professor Lawrence Sherman will be talking about the latest research into predicting, preventing and detecting crime as part of the Cambridge series at this year's Hay Festival.

Police historically kept many matters away from court, without having a clear strategy for how to make offenders stop offending. What modern criminology offers is a tool to improve their bottom line of crime.

Lawrence Sherman

The science of crime prevention gives police much more knowledge about crime prevention than most politicians or journalists even understand, a leading criminologist will tell this year's Hay Festival.

While public debate about crime prevention policy is driven more by emotions than by objective consideration of facts, evidence-based policing is growing rapidly and could significantly reduce crime, Lawrence Sherman, Wolfson Professor of Criminology, will say.

He adds that prediction, prevention and detection of crime are the three areas where criminology research has massively increased in recent years, with major impact on police training and practice.

“We are at an important crossroads,” he says. “UK police have always been well-trained in law, which is absolutely fundamental, but their core business is preventing crime - which requires scientific and not just legal knowledge. Criminology as the science of behaviour in relation to crime is the primary, but not the only, source of the explosion in knowledge around predicting and preventing crime.”

Professor Sherman will give a talk on the New Police Knowledge at the Hay Festival on 8th June at 11.30am.

His talk, which will be introduced by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor, will focus on the growing links being forged between universities and police forces and an increasing focus on evidence of cost-effective practices in policing.

Professor Sherman says the University of Cambridge has been doing pioneering work on crime prevention and prediction with police officers around the world. Around 1,000 police chiefs have graduated from the University's Police Executive Programme. The Institute of Criminology has also made great breakthroughs in predicting when and where crime will happen as part of a new field of predictive policing.

The University’s Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology currently leads ten controlled trials across England and Wales on issues such as hot spot policing – focusing police on areas which are particularly crime prone - and managing low-risk offenders through supervision rather than putting them in prison. The evidence-based approach has had notable success in reducing crime in the US, Australia and UK, says Professor Sherman.

The Institute of Criminology has also been developing policies on crime detection, such as the cost effectiveness of using DNA evidence or of using “triage” methods to concentrate on solvable and serious cases. “We have to measure cost effectiveness of Crime Scene Investigation based on the fact that DNA evidence triples the chance of finding a criminal, making an arrest and making a successful prosecution,” says Professor Sherman. He adds that an added bonus in a country like India, where he is directing mid-career training for police chiefs, DNA could reduce an unsound reliance on confessions.

Professor Sherman compares the evidence-based approach with what happens in public health. He says there has been an enthusiastic embrace of the approach among what he calls “early adopters”. “Police officers themselves are very open-minded,” he says. “What matters to them is what works to prevent crime in the future, and not just retribution for what happened in the past. Retribution was the main message from governments over the past three decades, but police values always resisted punishments that just caused more crime. The culture of criminal courts is not about problem-solving. Police historically kept many matters away from court, without having a clear strategy for how to make offenders stop offending. What modern criminology offers is a tool to improve their bottom line of crime.”

Professor Sherman believes the police are on the cusp of becoming a science-based profession which will mean major changes, such as greater emphasis on university learning for officers, with senior managers requiring a masters degree.

He adds that policing is becoming extremely complex as police respond to a range of global issues, such as terrorism attacks, and changes in technology, such as the use of texting to spread last summer's riots in an unprecedented fashion. This complexity requires much more testing of a wide range of strategies and tactics, which senior police must then master and organize. The result could be a far higher level of professionalism in policing, rising to the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

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