Improving practice by liberating long held policing beliefs that are not supported by the evidence

Dr Geoff Sheldon1

1Queensland Police Service

The Australia and New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing (ANZSEBP) can be described as a group of law enforcement and other professionals who strive for an empirical basis for making practical policing decisions.

Having said this, the Society has a large membership of sworn police officers, and this is where police culture can clash with science.

In an effort to improve delivery of policing services, doctoral research into the full moon hypothesis (that ‘lunatics’ come out at the full moon) was conducted by Superintendent Geoff Sheldon, now of Cairns Police. With the belief in the lunar hypothesis being such a firmly held opinion in police culture, evidence-based research that refutes the existence of any cosmic influence upon policing was indeed received as an ‘inconvenient truth’.

The research covered over 908,000 jobs attended by police in Brisbane over an 8-year period and found that there was no statistically significant relationship between calls for service and the full moon.

But how was this evidence-based research received in the world of law enforcement? This is best summed up by the famous courtroom cross examination scene in the 1992 movie, ‘A Few Good Men’, played out between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise…

Nicholson: “You want answers?”
Cruise: “I want the truth!”
Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!”

In policing culture, denial of the existence of ‘full moon lunatics’ is akin to slaughtering a cultural ‘sacred cow’ and any police leader doing so should prepare for ‘robust discussions’!


Biography:

With Superintendent Geoff Sheldon’s Grade 4 school report card noting, “Geoff has a good vocabulary, although prefers swear words”, perhaps it was inevitable that he gravitated towards policing, and later detective work, joining the QPS in 1982. Born on a ‘blue moon’, and confronting his fair share of ‘lunatics’ in his career with the QPS spanning the last 37 years, the lunar hypothesis has always interested Geoff.

With approximately 30 years as a Detective, Geoff’s doctoral dissertation is on whether the full moon affects people’s behaviour to such an extent as to increase demand for policing services.

Having spent more than 3 decades believing this to be the case, Geoff was disappointed to disprove the myth that is enshrined in policing culture world-wide. But he was surprised by the general reaction from his law enforcement colleagues who acknowledge his research, but much prefer to rely upon their long-standing cultural beliefs that ‘the lunatics come out at the full moon’.

So Geoff now works in Cairns, covering from Cardwell in the south, up to Papua New Guinea in the north, and out to the western Cape, and is the only one in the District who appears relaxed at the full moon!

Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing

The Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing (ANZSEBP) was formed in April 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. The ANZSEBP is a police practitioner-led Society. The mission of the ANZSEBP is to develop, disseminate and advocate for police to use scientific research (“the evidence”) to guide best practice in all aspects of policing. The ANZSEBP Chairperson serves on the Executive Board of the British Society of Evidence Based Policing, ensuring that the ANZSEBP works cooperatively with an international group of police to advance evidence based policing.

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