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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Inaugural Smart Policing National Meeting
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Kris. It's great to be here and to see so many long-time colleagues!

       Before I begin, I want to thank CNA for organizing and hosting this meeting, and for being our training and technical assistance partner. CNA is uniquely qualified, I think, to help us bridge the gap between research and policy, and I'm grateful for the expertise of its staff.

       And, of course, I want to thank Jim, Mike Medaris, Alissa Huntoon, Pam Cammarata, and all the great staff in the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) for helping to organize this meeting. This is a group of people who care deeply about our local and state partners, and who want to make a difference. I rely on them heavily for their expert guidance, as I'm sure Jim often regrets when he gets those late night and weekend e-mails from me.

       I'm so pleased that all of you could be here. This meeting - and I'm sure Jim has already made this point - is a very big step forward in the Justice Department's agenda to advance evidence-based practices in law enforcement.

       I'm sure none of you needs to be told about Eric Holder's commitment to data-driven, smart-on-crime approaches. It's been a mantra of his since he took office, and it comes up just about every time I speak with him.

       It was one of the 10 goals that I announced for the Office of Justice Programs shortly after I returned to the Department last year. And Jim, Kris, and I have been working together closely to make sure that evidence-based practices and principles are at the center of our work with law enforcement.

       So, I'm very excited that we now have a full-fledged initiative aimed at embedding smart-on-crime approaches in policing practice. And I don't think it could have come at a better time.

       I know that, in many ways, this is an evolutionary step. Practitioners like those of you in this room - and law enforcement leaders like Ed Davis, Chuck Ramsey, Bill Bratton, and other icons in the profession - have been moving the field in the direction of focused, data-driven policing for many years. Now, with the fiscal challenges facing so many cities and communities, we've reached a point where smart policing has become a virtual mandate.

       I know the budget constraints you face in your jurisdictions are serious, and we know that local budgets will likely feel the pinch for some time to come. Our response through the Recovery Act last year reflects just how serious we are about helping local and state law enforcement agencies weather these difficult times.

       But I also see this as an opportunity. I find it encouraging - and I hope all of you do, too - that there is now a very reasoned, thoughtful public discourse about public safety, one that rises above politics at a time when nothing, seemingly, is apolitical. Although this may sound like Pollyanna, I think that's a huge silver lining.

       I've always had a passion for bringing research together with policy and practice. Before I came back to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), as some of you know, I directed the Master of Science Program at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Criminology. Our mission there was to send criminologists out into the field to help strengthen the connection between knowledge and action.

       I know that the relationship between researchers and practitioners has traditionally suffered from a big trust gap. Researchers don't understand why practitioners won't read their stuff, and practitioners find what they write unreadable. And little effort was made to bridge the divide. . . until recently.

       This group here - all of you - represents something exceptional: A team of social scientists and law enforcement professionals who respect one another's work and who value the potential of the research-practitioner dynamic. You are a model for the direction that the criminal justice field, as a whole, must take going forward. And I also have to commend Jim and BJA - along with Kris and her staff - for being models at the federal level by making sure our research and evaluation resources are being used to support our work with states and locals.

       The Smart Policing Initiative is rooted in promoting, developing, and enhancing evidence-based practices, but it's also intended to encourage innovative strategies and approaches. I think, often, those two motives are seen as mutually exclusive, instead of mutually supportive, as they should be. That's unfortunate, because the truth is, developing an evidence base is a dynamic exercise that depends on a process of constant experimentation, adaptation, and adjustment.

       By the same token, innovation is not an empirically blind free-for-all; true innovation makes deliberate use of the evidence and applies it in creative ways.

       I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I think that's important to bear in mind as we go forward. This is not a static process.

       The Smart Policing Initiative is part of a larger initiative that I launched not long after I came to OJP. It's called the Evidence Integration Initiative, or E2I, for short.

       This is an agency-wide effort, and it has three objectives:

  • To improve the quantity and quality of evidence that we generate through research, evaluations, and statistics.
  • To better integrate evidence into program and policy decisions.
  • And to improve the translation of evidence into practice.

       Our goal is to help criminal and juvenile justice policymakers and practitioners better understand what has been shown to work. We're taking some specific steps. We're working to establish common expectations and definitions for credible evidence across programs. We're also forming Evidence Integration Teams to synthesize evidence on specific justice topics and develop principles for practice that can be communicated to the field. And we're focusing on how to get information out to practitioners and policymakers in a format that is accessible and useful.

       This focus on utility is an important one. We know that there are varying standards, or thresholds, of rigor in research. Obviously, the higher the standard, the more time and resources required. We know that law enforcement can't wait the years it often takes for a thorough body of research to be developed. We're being mindful of the need to support other methods that yield more immediate findings that can be put into service.

       The President has requested funding for two critical elements of E2I. One is an evidence-based Web site - a Crime Solutions Resource Center, as we're calling it. The work that all of you do under the Smart Policing Initiative will be published and it will feed into that. The other element is a diagnostic center, or "help desk," that will provide direct support to jurisdictions as they apply these approaches.

       And since I mentioned the President's budget, it also includes $10 million for a continuation of Smart Policing, as well as an additional $10 million for a Smart Probation program. We also currently have an open Smart Policing solicitation - in this fiscal year - through which we're encouraging strategic partnerships with probation. We plan on funding an additional three or four sites under that solicitation.

       So smart policing - and smart-on-crime approaches, generally - are a centerpiece of this Administration's public safety agenda. And you can see this reflected in a number of places - for example, through the White House's Office of Urban Affairs and its emphasis on place-based programming. Clearly, place-based policing is one of the smart-on-crime approaches we're exploring further through this initiative.

       I also know that some of you - like the Philadelphia contingent - are looking at place-based and offender-based approaches. The work that Jerry Ratcliffe and Elizabeth Groff, in concert with the Philadelphia Police Department, are undertaking represents an intriguing test of "what works" in addressing street crime in a city that has certainly faced its share of public safety challenges.

       And, of course, there are other strategies that deserve further exploration, testing, and attention - drug and gun market interventions, intelligence-centered models, public health approaches, and others. Many of these will be explored through this initiative.

       I think this is the smart policing era, if I can coin a phrase. We're smart on crime because we have to be, but - more to the point - we're smart on crime because we can be. We know more than we have before about what works or is promising - and our evidence base is expanding, thanks in great part to stronger collaboration between researchers and practitioners. This initiative is our opportunity to build on that momentum and to take evidence-based approaches to the next level.

       I look forward to following your progress in the coming months and years, and I'm eagerly anticipating hearing the lessons learned from your efforts.

       Thank you for your contributions and for all you do for public safety in America.

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