Jim Burch

Inducted August 2015

Nominated by Cynthia Lum, George Mason University


Mr. Burch is the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Police Foundation, overseeing the Foundation’s efforts to advance policing through innovations in practice and technology as well as the Foundation’s strategic programs and management services.

Prior to joining the Police Foundation in early 2015, Mr. Burch served for more than 20 years at the U.S. Department of Justice, having been appointed to various senior executive and leadership positions, including Acting Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (2009-2011), Deputy Assistant Attorney General (2011-2014) of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Acting Assistant Director at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) (2014-2015).

Mr. Burch holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

Evidence-Based Research and Practice:

During his tenure at the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Burch was a driving force behind developing the evidence-based approach and perspective at BJA, not only in incorporating research-driven approaches into BJA’s efforts, but also supporting research partnerships and infrastructure building. This was an important and major change in BJA at that time, especially in its law enforcement portfolio. He ensured that many of BJA programs reflected evidence of effectiveness by directing that funding solicitations reflect the relevant evidence and incentivized evidence-based practices.

Most notably, Mr. Burch led BJA’s efforts, with the assistance of BJA senior policy advisors and policy advisors to conceptualize and implement the SMART Policing initiative, which had been developed to offer law enforcement agencies opportunities to replicate evidence-based practices, to innovate with unproven but research-driven strategies, and to build and maintain strong partnerships with local researchers that could ultimately lead to the greater use and reliance on science within policing. He also identified ways to leverage BJA support for the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix and Matrix Demonstration projects, a translational cousin to the Smart Policing efforts. Both the SPI and the Matrix Projects became a strong part of BJA’s portfolio to advance the various aspects of evidence-based policing – from the supply of research, to building infrastructure for more research-practitioner partnerships, to translation efforts to implement ideas from research knowledge into daily criminal justice practices. In collaboration with the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, Mr. Burch reacted to concerns in the field over the lack of academic assistance in some areas of the country to translate research and evidence by encouraging the creation of the Evidence-Based Policing Consortium, a network of academic experts willing to advise local agencies in evidence-based justice. Later, as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Mr. Burch advocated for the Consortium to be identified as a resource in all relevant OJP funding solicitations.

Additionally, his close partnership with Directors Laub and Lynch of the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics respectively, also helped to bring more synergy and connectivity between BJA’s funding priorities and science. This resulted in many joint initiatives, the development of program-level research advisory boards, and greater connectivity between policing scholars and staff at BJA. In particular, BJA’s replication of Project HOPE and many of the ongoing reentry demonstration and evaluation initiatives were jointly planned and BJA’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Program was designed after closely and jointly examining PREA data with BJS statisticians. Vitally important were the tangible outgrowths of this partnership, including the development of research advisory boards that assisted in framing the development of demonstration initiatives to ensure that the funding solicitation and the program itself were properly structured from a scientific perspective and to ensure that the program and the NIJ evaluation were developed in a carefully coordinated manner.

As Acting Assistant Director at the ATF (a position he held from 2014 – 2015), Jim’s focus on evidence-based practice continued. There, he researched and developed a publication to highlight the evidence-based aspects of ATF’s business model and divisional operations in areas of violent gun crime. Now at the Police Foundation, he is continuing his work in pushing for stronger links between research and law enforcement.

Jim Burch’s reflections on “The Evolution of Integrating Science and Evidence in U.S. Department of Justice Agencies” 
(reprinted from the Spring, 2015 Issue of Translational Criminology):

Federal agencies directly and indirectly responsible for improving the nation’s criminal justice system through grants and other federal assistance have made it abundantly clear that supporting the development and replication of evidence-based practices by state, local, and tribal entities is a top priority. But questions remain as to what extent these agencies and their operational counterpart agencies are truly embracing evidence-based practices and whether we are evolving toward a sustained practice of integrating science and evidence or just showcasing a temporary idea.

Expecting a wholesale change or shift is not practical. Instead, we must look at various points in the evolutionary process to appreciate and understand the incremental, yet potentially substantial change taking place. For example, a pivotal time in the Department of Justices’ evolution toward becoming an organization that sustains its focus on science and evidence occurred in 2009 with a massive increase in congressional appropriations to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In fact, the $2.76 billion Recovery Act funds essentially doubled OJP’s appropriations and were intended to provide “resources, through federal grants and grant programs, to assist communities throughout the country. These funds [were] intended to build capacity to prevent crime and improve the criminal justice system in the United States, while supporting the creation and retention of jobs.”[i] The OJP leadership at the time insisted on leveraging science and avoiding spending on purposes that would not advance the system.

The president requested and Congress provided a roughly 100 percent increase in resources that (aside from the requirements to create jobs in communities, reach as many economically distressed communities as possible, and improve criminal justice) had no programmatic limitations that barred using the funds in the most needed and effective ways. These factors created an exceptionally rare opportunity for OJP to leap ahead in its evolution toward embedding science and integrating evidence in its programs supporting state, local, and tribal justice needs. This step began a significant shift, and the OJP staff fully embraced the opportunity, ultimately leading the way to where OJP is today in terms of supporting evidence integration.

While this was a time of opportunity and growth for OJP, it was not without its challenges. As the staff and agency leaders moved quickly and enthusiastically to design and implement new programs that would improve the field’s knowledge of what works, improve the operations and capacity of the system, and create jobs, they faced many challenges. These challenges included adapting proven and promising models to different or unique geographic settings (for example, rural areas), a crisis atmosphere and resulting time line to disburse funding and produce results, conflicting development time lines between program and research components, a peer-review process with inherent weaknesses in identifying the proposals with the greatest potential for success in advancing justice, and a lack of consensus about what strategies and approaches should be tested or had already been proven to reduce crime. Coupled with political expectations from the legislative branch that all communities were suffering and therefore everyone should get something, these issues created significant challenges.

The exceptional nature of the opportunity, the urgency of the legislation, and the push from leadership to seize the day required OJP staff to confront many of these obstacles and pilot test new and creative approaches to doing business together. As a result, OJP learned and changed. The stranglehold of tradition and bureaucracy that government organizations routinely confront was lifted just long enough to allow the staff to identify new ways of working together and addressing some of the barriers to integrating programs with science that had been counterproductive for years.

With support from the Office of the Assistant Attorney General and in close coordination with the various OJP business offices, such as its Office of General Counsel; Office of the Comptroller; Office of Audit, Assessment, and Management; and others, traditional and in some cases singularly focused internal processes were revised or set aside in favor of new processes that blended together the needs of program, science, and accountability to meet the overall goals. The limits of what could be done had expanded or were at least approached with an open mind, resulting in many immediate successes and paving the way for sustainability of these newfound flexibilities and problem solving, including

  • Joint short- and long-term program planning and sharing of priorities began taking place between the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice, as well as other OJP program offices, at both the leadership (director) level and management levels
  • Establishing research advisory boards (with appropriate nondisclosure/noncompete requirements) to assist both the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance in designing, planning, and crafting large-scale joint research and demonstration projects well in advance of the time dictated by the appropriations cycle
  • Joint or closely coordinated National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Assistance grant monitoring of research demonstration projects to ensure consistent communication between the program and evaluation teams, as well as between funding agencies, and continued commitment to programmatic requirements
  • Considering peer review outcomes as advisory and allowing agencies such as the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Assistance to send teams of federal and external researchers to high-scoring applicant sites to further explore research and program readiness and suitability, factoring findings into the decision-making process
  • Balancing program investments between innovation and evidence to allow some applicants to innovate and test approaches not yet considered evidence-based, particularly in rural or other areas with unique features or requirements

While some of these developments may have been previously thought of or maybe even tried before, it was this occasion—and the willingness and commitment of OJP staff —that allowed these changes to be implemented as “in this case” but to grow into “the way we do business.” In fact, the above advancements are largely still in place today as standard practice.

While the pace of this evolutionary process was uniquely enhanced and accelerated during the perfect storm of the Recovery Act, the desire to leverage science and evidence in support of OJP program development existed more than 15 years earlier, when I recall, for example, officials in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention urging the revisitation of youth development research funded by the then-Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to shape new funding programs and urging support of positive youth development approaches as called for in the research and following public health and delinquency prevention research related to risk and protective factors. Each new major initiative brought with it some opportunity to be shaped and informed by available research. In some cases, the opportunity was seized, in others it wasn’t demanded or expected and opportunities were clearly lost. Collectively, these occasions represent the cyclical process of moving closer to the integration of science and evidence.

As these Recovery Act development and management approaches became the norm after 2009, many of OJP’s greatest science-based initiatives were formed—from the SMART Policing Initiative, which pairs local law enforcement agencies with local researchers to replicate evidence-based practices, to the testing of promising and innovative reentry models and large-scale replication of programs, such as Hawaii HOPE. These joint initiatives will do much to inform the nation about what works, how it works, and why. In many ways, these latter initiatives were informed and inspired by the successes of the Recovery Act processes.

In January 2014, I was asked to assist DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) as an assistant director, responsible for public and governmental affairs. I served in this role until January 2015. My experience at ATF was eye opening in terms of the challenges of evidence-based practice in a federal law enforcement agency, particularly because they appear outside the scope of federal agency role (for example, no patrol function). What I found there was both surprising and encouraging. In 2013, the newly confirmed ATF director, B. Todd Jones, and his executive team launched the formation of an agency-wide internal business strategy. The strategy is referred to as “Frontline” and is designed to assist the bureau in focusing its limited resources on the most serious issues within ATF’s realm of responsibility and doing so in more accountable ways. Frontline espouses the concept of intelligence-driven enforcement and creates a cycle of accountability and assessment that arguably has its origins in the Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment or SARA problem-solving model. Quite surprising was Frontline’s adoption of evidence-based principles derived from evaluation research on the Project Safe Neighborhoods model[ii] in particular, resulting in a focus on building partnerships with state and local agencies and organizations representing key stakeholders affected by the bureau’s mission and operations. ATF’s executive team is in the process of ensuring full adoption of this strategy throughout its 25 field divisions.

During my time with ATF, I learned about local operations and partnerships that demonstrated just how ATF’s local-level operations could be consistent with evidence-based practice. For example, ATF’s support for and participation in the Kansas City, Missouri, No Violence Alliance,[iii] an evidence-based, focused deterrence strategy implemented as part of the Bureau of Justice’s SMART Policing Initiative, recently recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Committee. A brief conversation with Kansas City Police Department officials revealed that the cooperation between the local ATF and the Kansas City Police Department was unique and referred to as “critical” by local officials.

I saw this same level of cooperation through the emerging Crime Gun Intelligence Center concept in multiple ATF field divisions, most notably Chicago and Denver. It was clear that despite what many perceive as immunity of federal agencies from evidence-based practice, the ATF is helping guide and implement these approaches in many local communities. Near the end of my time at ATF, an independent researcher was retained to assess ATF enforcement initiatives, including the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, looking to build closer connections between ATF and local communities, so the gains made through these cooperative enforcement strategies can be sustained through local evidence-based approaches over the long term. I found the openness to evidence-based practices highly encouraging and motivating, and ATF executives and staff were deservingly proud about ATF’s progress in this regard.

Federal justice agency adoption of science and evidence is a major philosophical and operational shift, and despite strong support for this change from within the agencies, it will take administration and congressional action, vigilance on the part of the scientific and policy communities, and many years of sustained focus and commitment to reach the point where evidence integration is truly the norm with few barriers to integration. For now, we should be encouraged to know that OJP and its program offices continue to modify internal processes in support of the integration of science and implement evidence-based programs. Private-sector companies marketing technology solutions to state and local agencies have recognized this shift and are now marketing products in ways that align with or even support the evidence-based practice movement. Federal enforcement agencies such as the ATF are engaging with outside researchers and supporting local implementation of evidence-based violence reduction strategies.

The future is bright as we embrace science in the justice community, and we must redouble our efforts to produce the research needed to drive future strategies and continue to build our capacity to translate evidence into practice.


[i] U.S. Department of Justice (June 2010). OJP-Program Specific Plan for Management of Recovery Act Funds. Update. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/recovery/pdfs/ojp-plan.pdf

[ii] McGarrell, E.F., Kroovand Hipple, N., Corsaro, N., Bynum, T., Perez, H., Zimmermann, C., & Garmo, M., (April 2009). Project Safe Neighborhoods: A National Program to Reduce Gun Crime: Final Project Report. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) web site: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/226686.pdf

[iii] SMART Policing Initiative web site (2015). Reducing Violent Crime through Social Network Analysis-based Offender Targeting. Retrieved on January 31, 2015, from the Smart Policing Initiative web site: http://www.smartpolicinginitiative.com/SPIsites/kansas-city-missouri