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The beat goes on, but police and researchers are now in sync

It's the antithesis of the ivory tower. Out on the beat and in the courts, at crime scenes and in emergency situations, police management and decision-making is being informed by a productive and long-standing collaboration between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmania Police.

When Tasmania Police attend family violence confrontations, for example, they are guided by a protocol developed in collaboration with the University's Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies (TILES). Another program of research is helping in understanding the social determinants that underlie crime, while yet another helps inform emergency services in how to attract and retain volunteers.

In overseeing research in police studies at the University of Tasmania, Professor Roberta Julian is part of the team behind a major success story, of which the teaching program is a critical part.  Tasmania is the only jurisdiction in Australia in which a university education is provided to all recruits once they have been accepted into the police force. Tasmania Police also has university education milestones built into its promotion system.

In 2006, working with the State Government and the Police Association, the then Faculty of Arts helped to reshape the Police Academy's program to incorporate tertiary study.

International attention

At a time when there has been an international push for the professionalisation of policing and to build a body of research to support policing practice, the program has attracted international attention and acclaim. A Professor of Police Studies from Washington University visited in 2019 to use the Tasmanian experience to inform his university's approach to police education. "This is a huge cultural shift, and we are a world leader," Professor Julian said.

Academics in TILES have collaborated with Tasmania Police to evaluate and improve a protocol that supports police decision-making in family violence situations. Importantly, the development of the protocol has been led by information provided by victims in these situations – they are the best people to advise on predicting a perpetrator's behaviour in this situation. "We have directly influenced policy and practice with this work," Professor Julian said.

This is a huge cultural shift, and we are a world leader.

This work, developed over 10 years by Dr Romy Winter and Ron Mason, is just one example of the world-leading research that is happening in TILES, which has been working collaboratively with the Tasmanian police service since 2003 to introduce evidence-based practice to the beat.

In another project, Associate Professor Angela Dwyer is conducting a survey with members of the LGBTIQ community to ty to establish whether Tasmania Police's attempts to be a more inclusive and progressive organisation have been successful.

Cusp of generational change

Professor Julian, the recent recipient of the University Research Medal and founding Director of TILES, believes policing is at the cusp of generational change that will see more evidence-based practice, and importantly, a more broadly-based, multi-disciplinary approach to law enforcement.

She is excited to see an award-winning program of research now underway in TILES, led by Dr Isabelle Bartkowiak-Theron, in the area of law enforcement and public health.

This program aligns with the rise of a more multi-disciplinary approach to teaching the future police service, expanding from the old days when learning was focussed on apprehending criminals, to take in government frameworks, management skills and social determinants of crime. In 2019 this program received the ON Prime (CSIRO) research training award.

In learning and teaching, a program in the discipline of forensic studies taught collaboratively by Dr Loene Howes and Professor Julian is also more advanced than any other in Australia.

Reframing forensic science

From 2009-2014 Professor Julian was lead chief investigator on an ARC Linkage grant, involving Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and the National Institute of Forensic Science, with the incredibly broad remit of examining the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system. This work was instrumental in reframing the uses of forensic science to become less about 'catching the crims' and more about being able to predict where and when crime might happen.

Apart from the knowledge gathered and the impact of the work, Professor Julian and TILES have achieved a remarkable level of integration and trust with Tasmania Police.

"I think it helped that when I started, I had no background in policing, but had strong collaborations with the community sector," she said. "The Tasmanian police have been wonderful to work with and I can't speak highly enough of the rewards of our partnership."