Distinguished Achievement Award

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Acceptance Remarks: James Bueermann

2018 Recipient

The following are remarks by James Bueermann, President of the Police Foundation and retired Chief of Police for the Redlands (California) Police Department upon receipt of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Evidence-Based Crime Policy. These remarks are also featured in the Fall 2018 issue of Translational Criminology Magazine.

While I believe there to be more deserving practitioners than myself, I am humbled, and extremely appreciative, of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy’s granting me one of its two 2018 Distinguished Achievement Awards. I’d like to congratulate my fellow award winner, Dr. Ed McGarrell, a distinguished researcher and wonderful person to boot!

If I have seen farther in the world of evidence-based policing than expected, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. These include the men and women of the Redlands Police Department, the Police Foundation, and the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing. They include legends in criminology, criminal justice practice, and community members: David Weisburd, Larry Sherman, Geoff Alpert, Steve Mastrofski, Joan Petersilia, Cynthia Lum, Phil Goff, Raphael Ward, Mark Bush, Lew Nelson, Tom Fitzmaurice, Bob Brickley, Bill Tafoya, Al Gore, Jeremy Travis, Susan Herman, Mark Kroeker, Joe Brann, Ron Davis, Barney Melekian, Luis Alvitrez, Bart Beltran, Gilbert Gil, Enrique Martinez, Anthony Green, and Felix Jones. They have each taught me treasured lessons and helped me discover a wide breadth of perspectives of the world in which I have worked for 40 years. For that, I will always find myself in their debt.

My personal journey into evidence-based practices began in 1966 when I was 10 years old. I had somehow talked my parents into buying me a Red Ryder BB gun and was the envy of my neighborhood cohort. While camping with my family, I decided to engage in one of my earliest experiments.

Like most 10-year-old boys armed with a BB gun, I would shoot at almost anything—sticks, rocks, plants, and birds—without any regard for the harm I caused. During one of my hunting expeditions, I posed the following hypothesis: A living thing shot with my BB gun does not really feel much pain. This obviously served to rationalize my taking shots at any and all things.

To test this hypothesis, I created a methodology that was simple and direct. I would simply shoot myself in my foot to see if it hurt. I reasoned that my Keds tennis shoes would replicate the natural protection small animals had in the way of feathers or scales. This research design would give me immediate feedback which I could use to advance the use of my cherished Red Ryder. It was action research at its finest.

I can report, with scientific certainty, that shooting yourself in the foot with a Red Ryder BB gun does, in fact, really hurt! My hypothesis was disproven.

This experiment taught me two things. First, I had been causing harm to innocent animals without really recognizing that I was doing so—I never shot at another animal. And second, through experimentation, I could better understand my world and make it a better place.

I realize now that this lesson served to frame how I approached my eventual calling in life. As a young patrol officer in 1980, I conducted research for my master’s degree in my department to try and determine if there were differences in the perceptions between line officers and their supervisors about what motivated the officers to work (there were). But I did not really understand the value of policing research to the field and communities at the time. That epiphany hit me in 1998 after reading Professor Larry Sherman’s seminal article on the subject, aptly titled “Evidence-Based Policing.” I’m very proud of the fact that this a Police Foundation Ideas in American Policing publication (available at www.policefoundation.org).

From that point onward, I have tried to be a vocal champion of evidence-based policing and all it entails. I believe it is a principled way policing can fulfill three sacred mandates: first, while trying to serve and protect our communities, do no harm (this is policing’s version of the Hippocratic Oath); second, use scientific methods to understand and incorporate community perspectives on crime control and police legitimacy; and third, be good stewards of the taxpayer investment in public safety by constantly evaluating the effectiveness of the programs and practices aimed at controlling crime and disorder.

During the 13 years I was the police chief in my department, we conducted multiple randomized controlled trials. These were invaluable to our agency and caused us to alter our way of doing business.

I believe it is incumbent upon researchers, practitioners, and community members to help advance our collective understanding of the complicated world of policing. In addition to the topics already on policing’s radar screen, we must focus on disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, facial recognition, predictive analytics, and virtual reality. We must better understand the way in which social media informs the public’s perception of crime control, race, and police use of force. We need to help the police own evidence-based principles and anchor them to the culture of policing. And finally, research should help the police and policymakers better understand the unintended consequences of well-intended strategies to control crime and disorder that ultimately inflict harm on the very people the police are paid to protect.

As our world continues to change at an ever-increasing rate, the use of the best available evidence to drive public safety policy and practice, and the persistent evaluation of those practices to gauge their effectiveness and potential for harm, must become a fundamental underpinning of our quest to enhance the public’s trust and confidence in the police.