Adoption of evidence-based approaches by police services offers a practical and scientific solution to ensure public safety and proper allocation of resources. Advances in the field of sexual violence risk prediction have the potential to inform policing practices. The present study examines the validity of existing actuarial measures to predict the future sexual violence behavior of 290 identified male perpetrators of sexual assault against adult victims (ages 16 and older). The Static-99R and Static-2002R were coded from police documentation, and the sample was followed up for at least 1 year with an average of 3.6 years. Both measures showed large effects for predicting any offending, violent offending, and sexual offending in the form of charges and convictions. The findings suggest that existing sex offender research can extend to police practice, and criminogenic factors used to predict recidivism among convicted offenders may apply to assessing the risk posed by perpetrators of police-reported sexual assaults.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
A few years ago, I was fortunate to be asked by the Edmonton Police Service to examine their homicide cases. In working with them, I was able to establish a mutually respectful and trusting working relationship with them. A year later, given the increased calls they received regarding intimate partner violence and sexual assault over the years, they contacted me again to carry out more research. Although their interest was focused more on examining the profile of reported cases, I was very much interested in examining the application of risk assessment in the police context, as I was already collaborating with a provincial law enforcement agency. When I pitched this idea, they became quite interested as well, and I was given the opportunity to access their police database to carry out the research.
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
I’m more familiar with correctional and outpatient forensic settings, so one of the things I found challenging was learning about the policies and politics in the police context—in essence, I had to immerse in the police culture at the service. I was lucky as I was eligible for a sabbatical leave and applied for one with the goal of conducting research at the Edmonton Police Service. The learning curve was huge and it was critical for me to understand how the police organization worked in order for me to truly do meaningful and impactful research.
What kinds of things did you learn about authorship as a result of producing this article?
It was an interesting experience for me, as I collaborate a lot with other researchers who are often friends or become good friends, or else I work very closely with my students. I greatly enjoy the collaborative process, and I also find that collaborating provides a nice safety net because I can bounce things off my collaborators or my students to ensure I’m doing the right thing or I haven’t missed something. But this particular research started as a solo project during my sabbatical leave. I was able to dedicate a lot of time to it, but I was mostly on my own in developing the coding strategy I would end up using to collect and code the data.
The fortunate thing was that the research was focused in an area that I was already familiar with. Given my research on threat and risk assessment in policing (I currently collaborate with Drs. Ennis, Hilton, and Nunes), this was an easy application to the sexual violence risk field, with which I was more familiar.
What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about Sexual Violence Risk Prediction in a Policing?
Prioritizing police-reported cases of sexual violence is necessary given the finite resources available to police. Taking from the RNR principles used in correctional psychology, it makes sense to use evidence-based practices, such as validated risk assessment tools, to prioritize resources to sexual assault cases where there is an identifiable perpetrator. The risk principles highlights that we should be aware of who should receive the most resources and such tools can be invaluable to police in their service-intensive work to reduce further sexual victimization. This research supports the use of these tools at the front line where early intervention responses can prevent further assaults committed by the same perpetrator.
Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?
In this case, practitioners are law enforcement. Borrowing from intimate partner violence research, we know that police are capable of reliably using actuarial measures of risk in their work. So the implications from this research suggests that police officers can use evidenced-based practices, that are extracted from sexual violence research conducted in correctional and forensic settings, in their work to both efficiently use their resources and make defensible daily decisions with the goal of preventing further sexual assaults.
Sandy Jung, PhD, RPsych