How collaborations with researchers can help LE agencies win grants

In an era of evidence-based practices and smart policing, partnerships with academic institutions have bolstered police grant funding to support community safety


Not too many years ago, when law enforcement and corrections agencies reached out to academic researchers or “think tank” organizations, it was because we were told they had to evaluate our work to determine if it was having an impact on reducing crime or other public safety issues. 

It was often dreaded – we thought the researcher was there to merely gather lots of statistics, analyze the numbers and, at the end of the day, point out all of the flaws in our work. Today, in an era of evidence-based practices and smart policing, these notions are far from true.

The benefits of a researcher/practitioner partnership

Partnerships between researchers and public safety agencies are growing rapidly across the country. (Photo/Pixabay)
Partnerships between researchers and public safety agencies are growing rapidly across the country. (Photo/Pixabay)

Partnerships between researchers and public safety agencies are growing rapidly across the country. These collaborations have sparked the development of innovative programs, brought equipment and other resources to the table, and encouraged data-driven decision making.  

From a grants perspective, the federal government and many state, corporate and private funders want to ensure the dollars they invest in public safety areas result in strategies that are effective, efficient and economical. Therefore, many grant opportunities require that researcher/practitioner partnerships are part of your proposed project design.   

Funding partnerships at the federal level

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the leading proponent of these partnerships as the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Each year, its portfolio of grant programs continues to expand to include more opportunities for law enforcement and corrections agencies to work with researchers in the development of new equipment and technology and on evaluating new strategies. 

A recent example includes the Communications Technologies Research and Evaluation for Law Enforcement and Corrections grant, which focused on providing knowledge on the deployment of mobile broadband communications technology for law enforcement and on developing solutions to combat the use of contraband wireless devices in correctional facilities. 

Other partnership grants and programs from NIJ include the Tribal-Researcher Capacity Building Grants and the Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Scholarships for Law Enforcement Officers where the law enforcement professionals lead the research efforts. These are just a few of many from NIJ.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, the leading federal agency for law enforcement and corrections funding, has a number of researcher/practitioner partnership grant opportunities through its "innovations suite" of programs. 

Its Strategies for Policing Innovation (SPI) grant – formally Smart Policing Initiative –allows the police agency to identify, test and expand innovative and evidenced-based programs and strategies. Similarly, the Supporting Innovation: Field-Initiated Programs encourages the use of practitioner/researcher partnerships to demonstrate and replicate programs that respond to emerging or chronic crime problems and systemic issues. This year’s focus was on improving officer and public safety.

How to create a partnership with researchers

If you already have a partnership established with an academic or research institute I applaud you. No doubt you have experienced the benefits of this collaboration in enhancing your data-driven decision making, improving your community safety efforts and perhaps even garnering necessary equipment or other resources used in the research initiatives. 

For those that don’t, here are some suggestions on how to get started if agency is interested in establishing a researcher/practitioner partnership:

  1. Reach out to your local college or university to begin the conversation. The office of sponsored research within a college or university would be a great place to start. Their job is to assist the various department’s/centers within the academic institutions to obtain grant funding to support research, evaluation and demonstration projects. They should be able to identify a researcher or academic department that best fits your needs
  2. Search university websites to find researchers that have expertise that match your agency’s goals.
  3. Attend seminars, conferences or other events sponsored by the institution to become familiar with their resources.
  4. Once you’ve identified the researcher, take the time from the beginning of a project to establish a trusting relationship. Invite the researcher to tour your facilities, and attend meetings and events, but also have them observe the daily operations of your agency. 
  5. Communicate your expectations and mutually agree on the project goals.  Understand what the tasks and timelines of the project will be so you can incorporate this activity into your general work responsibilities.
  6. Continue an active dialog with the researcher throughout each project – meet frequently to discuss the researcher’s observations, findings and initial data collected.  This will help you make any necessary mid-course changes in your project to improve its outcome.

Enjoy the many benefits such partnerships will bring to your agency, your community and to those who you protect every day!  

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