This paper examines the rise of Evidence-Based Policing (EBP) in Britain. EBP is a ‘what works’ initiative, claiming to offer benefits to ‘improve’ policing policy and practice based on scientific research graded as ‘evidence’. EBP valorises a narrow ‘experimental criminological’ understanding of knowledge and is being institutionalised into policing and academia with very limited challenge. This is despite concerns about ‘evidence-based policy’ in other fields and wide-ranging criminological perspectives on ‘crime’, ‘justice’ and policing that challenge the ‘experimental’ school. By 2022 EBP exerts significant influence on how policing insiders, academics, policymakers and politicians think, speak and act about British policing.
Drawing on Foucault and Hajer, this paper reports institutional changes produced by EBP’s advancement revealed through discourse analytical research into EBP’s ‘archive’ of academic, operational and political ‘texts’. These changes are represented as new ‘governance techniques’ that collectively guard the boundaries of the EBP project, ‘authorising’ the knowledge it generates as ‘true’, propelling EBP towards a hegemonic position in British policing.
EBP is repositioned as doing political work, sharing genealogical heritage with other political projects of late modernity, particularly managerialism and neoliberalism. Appropriately historicised, EBP can also be conceptualised as a new nadir in the problematic relationship between the production of criminological knowledge and the British state: reinforcing state definitions of ‘crime’ and cementing conservative ‘asks’ of policing. Simultaneously, the institutionalisation of EBP’s governance techniques is likely to further silence critical voices, excluding them from knowledge production, policy consideration, and neutralising their more radical calls for progressive policing.