Jason Potts

Inducted June 2019

Nominated by Renee Mitchell, American Society of Evidence-Based Policing


Jason Potts is a Lieutenant with the Vallejo (CA) Police Department (VPD), where he has served for 18 years. He is currently assigned to the patrol division as a watch commander and administrative lieutenant and leads the department’s field training program and youth services section. Lt. Potts is also a military reserve special agent with the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), serves on the board of directors for the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP) is a Police Foundation Fellow, a BetaGov Fellow (New York University), and an alumni of the National Institute of Justice LEADS Scholars program. He holds a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California, Irvine, and has completed PERF’s Senior Management Institute of Police.

Evidence-Based Research and Practice:

Lieutenant Potts is recognized for both his implementation of randomized controlled experiments in his agency as well as his efforts to advocate for evidence-based policing in VPD and the nation. He has completed two randomized controlled trials in his department. In one experiment he tested the effectiveness of automatic license plate readers, finding that police officers equipped with LPRs were more likely to detect stolen vehicles and identify lost or stolen plates. In another he tested the deterrent effects of flashing blue and red police lights on auto burglaries and theft in a high-density shopping center, finding the intervention helped to significantly reduce auto burglaries. Lt Potts has also conducted a quasi-experiment on theft deterrent strategies during the holiday shopping season where a multitude of interventions were tested. He, along with another police practitioner recently implemented a third randomized experiment to test how virtual reality training may inform future police training.

In her nomination letter, Sgt. Renee Mitchell, founder of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing, writes that Lt. Potts, “conducts his experiments in a department that is strapped for resources and where forced overtime is the norm. He has introduced evidence-based policing into his department in small doses and makes every effort to have one on one conversations with officers of all ranks so he can explain the benefits of evidence-based policing.” She also notes that Lt. Potts “has been an integral part of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing” and that he “spends his own time, effort, and energy helping the organization with marketing and planning of the annual conference.” She believes Lt. Potts’ “dedication to evidence-based practices is unparalleled.”

Statement from Inductee:

I am honored to share this recognition with those in my agency, profession, researchers I have worked with, and my loving wife and family who have supported and inspired me along the way to challenge and question why. The American Society of Evidence-Based Policing, to which I am proudly a part of, has provided myself and other like-minded folks with opportunities and new perspectives on policing. These perspectives sought to seek out, enhance, and challenge the best available data and research to inform and drive our decisions, strategies, and vision for policing moving forward. The National Institute of Justice LEADS Scholar program altered my career and many others for the better. Many thanks to Maureen McGough who had a forward-thinking vision to create the program, along with Gary Cordner, Geoff Alpert, and others at NIJ who have mentored the LEADS members along with way. The NIJ program opened many doors for us, which may not have been realized so early on in our careers.

During my career, I have always been curious about data/intelligence analysis. For example, when I worked narcotics years ago, we looked at improving our intelligence gathering around confidential informants. We had no mechanism for collecting information that informants would provide us regarding their drug networks. We typically just jotted down information on disorganized pieces of paper, stuffed it in a drawer or folder somewhere with little ability to quickly retrieve and share. The solution – develop a confidential debriefing word doc template where we used our email system as an impromptu, but effective way to collect, preserve, and more importantly, query valuable information on drug networks. Not the best method for today’s standards, but with a limited budget at the time, it worked for us. Nevertheless, it was this curiosity in challenging and testing systems, methods, and generally going against the grain to look for more effective and impactful ways to enhance policing that became a motivator. However, I have had my fair share of challenges along the way. While implementing EBP, doing it quietly but effectively has generally worked for me.

We discovered when testing procedures and systems that it is just as important to prove something does not work as it is in showing that it does. We have found that this tends to resonate with cops as they see a potential purpose for testing – not just implementing a program for the sake of it or perceived self-serving reasons. We have also discovered that it is helpful when implementing a new project to tackle it inversely – looking at the roadblocks and then doing everything we can to minimize or eliminate them. For example, reframing the purpose of research while introducing technology that cops know will help them do their tasks. Whether it be coupling rapid research with the introduction of license plate reader technology, GPS bait technology, and hidden cameras to combat theft or virtual reality training systems, police officers typically welcome new ways to make their tasks enjoyable and more effective and understand the value of testing to see if it works.

Assessing and analyzing the contextual data to look at the underlying causes of crime drivers and more importantly, testing its effectiveness – should be the goal in policing. Angela Hawken of BetaGov, NYU has also been a significant influence in our endeavors. Angela has been often heard saying we should aim in our organizations to fail forward, and I would add – fail forward, and fail fast. Testing and tracking data to see if a strategy or project works, then moving along, if it does not. The BetaGov model prides itself on quick, rapid, officer-led experiments that are often-times easy to implement and replicate. We have had a great deal of success with their model – similar to what is routinely done in the private sector (rapid beta testing).

Today, hiring, staffing, and retention challenges are a consistent theme throughout American policing. Attempting to add evidence-based policing to the mix are tremendous obstacles. Most police are short staffed, running call to call, and regularly subjected to forced overtime, which includes detectives and administrative officers that are doing the job of two and three officers with wages that don’t always measure up to the private sector. We are often too busy doing the job to find ways to do it better. Exacerbating the burdens, is the secondary trauma most police experience, resulting in occasional cynicism that creeps into our psyche through the constant exposure of dealing with someone on the worst day of their month, year, and even life. The frustration felt coping with many institutionalized segments of society seemingly at times unable to function without police mediation while looking to us to solve their problems. It is no wonder then that we have some police resistant to evidence-based policing concepts – most of us are stretched and only have so much bandwidth. We are problem solvers at our core and go from dealing with one problem to the next while living in a constant need to control, sprinkled in with life and death decisions – often with little interest or time to look at the data. Besides, if Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s can be widely successful using data to evaluate professional baseball players, yet still be ridiculed and challenged, then it should be no surprise for us in policing. Policing is highly nuanced and complex, and adding new processes and research often perceived to be misaligned with the realities of policing on the street can be an additional disconnect.

Yes, these are real challenges, and I have illustrated that some cops may possess a negative view on research and data. However, it is my experience many are receptive, but that may depend on where they are in their career, and again, how we frame it to them. Our police want to be empowered to go forth and conquer, but with realistic outcomes and goals where they are perceived to be the drivers of this control and effort. Those that resist may have a disdain for deterrence sometimes seen with hotspot policing. They are attracted to the autonomy and the thrill of the chase. They are typically not going to appreciate being told when, how, and where to police.

Police want to know how the research and data will make them better, and they want the information quickly and concisely – the ends should be more important than the means. Cops, however, enjoy data on shootings, use of force, and firearms. We should provide it and encourage them to participate in research that interests them, and not just research found in scholarly journals with paywalls and loaded with regression analysis. Many have compared the evidence-based policing movement to the medical and aviation field, but the difference is that many in those fields are both practitioners and researchers. The lines are often much farther apart in policing and often without easy access to scholarly journals. Aggravating those challenges are limited one-paged easily digestible snapshots of helpful information that clearly explain the research.

Nonetheless, we still have a generation of young police officers motivated to make a difference; they understand the importance of emerging technology, data, and research for effectiveness. Our 3-5-year cops – mostly millennial and now generation z, are more apt to embrace technology, data, and analysis. They have grown up with smartphones, the internet, and soon will probably know the basics of coding, algorithms, and analysis. As a result, it is my impression that we will one day get to the point that evidence-based policing is just not a new term but is fully realized in the DNA of policing. U.S. policing is decentralized (18,000 individual police departments) and based mostly on tradition, feelings, experiences, culture, politics, law, agency-specific values, and public opinion. However, if we restructure reward systems that focus on deterrence/prevention and legitimacy when appropriate, coupled with instinctive crime fighting that targets hot places in a laser approach to crime reduction like an investigator working a case, then we may align our actions to desired outcomes. The result might be the institutionalization of evidence-based approaches to policing based partly on analyzing and assessing data, coupled with the exponential growth of leveraged technology and more crime analysts.

In closing, I would like to thank the many talented, hard-working patrol officers, our crime analyst, and Sergeants that have worked these details where our organization is being recognized and where our efforts have been impactful to our community – I share this award with them. Finally, a debt of gratitude to Renee Mitchell and Chief Bidou for their steadfast support and confidence in me.

Contributions to Grants, Publications, and Projects: