2004 CEPOL European Police Research & Science Conference

The 2004 CEPOL European Police Research and Science Conference took place in Prague, Czech Republic on 9-12 November 2004.

The conference asked the questions: How can the police profit from science? What is police science? How can police science inform police training and police practice?

Held at the Police Academy of the Czech Republic in Prague, the conference offered a good opportunity for researchers and practitioners in the field of policing to meet and discuss the conditions for a closer cooperation with regard to a qualitative improvement of police work in the future.

The conference first presented a platform for general discussion of the definition and function of police science, and secondly focused on two major problems for the police to cope with:

  1. Crisis management of mass-events like football-championships and Olympic Games;
  2. The problem of domestic violence.

The thematic input of altogether eight keynote speakers was further discussed in workshops in the afternoon. The aim of the conference was to exchange knowledge and experience from research and practice and to improve cooperation between research, training and practice.

Police Science as a discipline or subject?

The debate about the function and self-understanding of science in the field if policing focused on the question of how to integrate police science into the academic landscape, either as an own discipline that draws on theories and methodologies from sociology, criminology, psychology, politics, public management, information technology, etc., or as a subordinate subject within those disciplines. In discussions it quickly became clear that police research had a better chance to inform police practice if it were integrated in a well-established and self-assured discipline – or as a "police doctrine", as RNDr. Jaroslav Holomek from the Slovak Police Academy called it.

Police Science then should be a practical science or applied science with a clear normative purpose: To inform the police about good-practice concepts. This is not self-evident. On the one hand professional market research institutes often have no political interest in the transformation of results into practice. On the other hand, social scientists often focus on methodology, for example statistical data analysis, hermeneutics, discourse analysis, etc., and simply borrow "material" from the subject of policing in order to test their methods. With regard to CEPOL activities, however, it was generally agreed that police science should act as a consultant for police management and police training.

"Police science is a system of scientific findings on policing, on the conditions, means and methods of its performance; on the police as an institution, its functioning, organisation and management as well as professional training and education of police officers ." Jaroslav Holomek

Bridging the gap between science and practice

The relation between police research, police training and police practice was regarded as problematic. In a historical analysis of scientific police-literature Prof. Rainer Prätorius, professor for public administration at the Universität der Bundeswehr in Hamburg and at the University of Minnesota, comes to the conclusion that despite an abundance of case-studies and critical reflection upon police practice there is a lack of systematic impact on police training and policing strategies. Looking at the history of police research in the U.S., it is significant that studies were mainly conducted as a reaction to changes in policing (community policing, zero-tolerance policing, problem-oriented policing etc.), which again responded to historical crises and tensions between police and society (ghetto- and campus riots, Rodney King, terrorism, etc.). Instead we have to ask how police science as a discipline can redirect the routine-practice of policing in relation to basic features of society.

Dr. Klaus Neidhardt, Director of the Polizei-Führungsakademie in Münster, Germany, identified several reasons for the apparent divide between the theory of scientists and experience of practitioners. The simplest reason is that researchers and practitioners do not know each other or ignore each other. Then the different language can be an obstacle for communication, but so can be the prejudice as the reason why practitioners cannot find an advantage from research results for their purposes. But even if this advantage is recognised, administrative or financial obstructions prevent possibilities for reforms. Additionally, police science comes across as a pending discipline under construction that lacks institutionalisation. Therefore police research must develop clear objectives for goals, motifs, content and realisation. Research outcomes must be assessable and understandable and should be integrated into police manuals in the police education system.

From riot control to the management of public order policing

The presentations of the keynote speakers on research in the field of crisis management in mass-events and domestic violence were considered exemplary models that should be followed in the future. Prof. Otto Adang, Research Manager at the Dutch Police Academy, declared that we can do a lot to prevent confrontations of football hooligans before the escalation, if we understand the psychological mechanisms of the origin of violence. For that we need to consider ingroup and outgroup mechanisms and avoid friction between opponents through communication prior to a potential confrontation. For that we need to analyse situations where frictions may arise. Furthermore it is important to understand that one should not treat every fan as a hooligan and that sometimes more police in high-risk situations can actually spark an escalation. Adang showed some empirical evidence as experienced in a field research at the European football Championships 1988 in Germany.

Police practitioners and police managers can better adjust themselves during preparations for mass-events if they study violence with regard to specific groups and the specific circumstances that lead to an escalation of violence. In short: Police can do a lot to prevent violence but only very little to stop it. This theory was put into practice during the Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium when early and focused interventions and active fan-contacts were applied in a preventive rather than repressive practice. The biggest challenge for police then is to be just but strict and friendly but firm. On the management level it was found that shared knowledge in an international co-operation is indispensable if simple riot control shall be transformed into advanced public order management.

Police research on domestic violence

Prof. Jennifer Brown, former research manager for the police and currently professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Surrey, presented a comprehensive domestic violence research programme, comprising studies on victim complaints about police practice, the investigative process and "attrition" of cases, offender behaviour and on offender profiling. Each study has a number of implications for police practice and police training. In a similar study Dr. Costas Veis, social researcher at the Cyprus Police and lecturer at the Police Academy in Cyprus, co-ordinated an evaluation study of the police training for handling cases of domestic violence and a victim survey about the satisfaction with police.

From all the research presented it became clear that, first, police is subject to the same stereotypes concerning victims, context of rape and sexual harassment and offenders as the general public. Police officers also tend to classify victims and offenders following social knowledge from the media, films and newspapers. Secondly, police officers are no better at detecting deception than the general public due to pre-investigative attitudes towards the complainant. Police research has the commitment to test whether police training has a significant effect on officer attitudes, knowledge and skills, on overall case handling and finally on the quality of case investigation. Overall, various police research on domestic violence has the potential to give objective feedback to the police about their performance and thus can play an important role as a mediator between the police and the public.

Policing as a political response

We must understand that – as history shows – police research often responds to crises in the development of modern society. Police science therefore has to relate policing to social developments and provide answers to social change and to the challenges for politics such as ethnic conflicts or terrorism. The example of the development of a modern professional police in the history of Greece shows very well the difficult position of the police between a political regime and everyday social order. As Dr. Effi Lambropoulou, Associate Professor of Criminology at the Department of Sociology in the Panteion University of Social & Political Sciences in Athens explained, police must serve the political system and the public at the same time. Policing is subject to political regimes and consequently has to cope with political movements in civil society. Mrs. Lambropoulou also showed the administrative complexity in the preparation of a security system for the Olympics 2004. Traffic control strategies had to be combined with boarder-control and the control against terror-attacks in accordance with policing at the sports-events.

General conclusion

Very often police training has to rely on individual "art & craft – knowledge" that is vaguely transformed into general concepts of policing. In addition to the conventional way of learning from local and individual experience that is informally passed on from one police officer to another, police science can offer advice in a more systematic way. Police research therefore has to study the effectiveness, efficiency and performance of policing. What is needed is a specification of the organisation and management of the police and a definition of clear guidelines for everyday activities. However, it is not the aim to turn police officers into scientists, on the other hand police training cannot do without practical experience of police officers. Police science has the task to study police practice, evaluate it under the premises of validity and reliability, apply a variety of methods, develop theories that are grounded on empirical facts, and eventually instruct police training for an advanced police performance.

To achieve this it is essential to overcome the "cultural divide" between science and practice: Both sides – researchers and practitioners – should listen to each other, learn from each other and should be prepared to transform knowledge into new practice. This mutual approach also means that the police must be open minded for critical self-reflection and constructive critique.

Police science can inform the police in two ways: First, conclusions from research can flow into teaching manuals and training to finally improve police performance. Secondly, police science can directly inform the management of policing not only during mass-events, but also in everyday practice. Research on good-practice models should be disseminated and exchanged in meetings and conferences where practitioners and scientists meet. The recent conference has certainly contributed to that aim.

Consequences for CEPOL

As a final speaker Prof. Cyrille Fijnaut, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Tilburg University in The Netherlands and Faculty of Law at the University in Leuven in Belgium, gave a critical assessment of the current situation of the interplay between research and practice in the field of policing. According to Fijnaut, "... this interplay has been very limited and almost non-existent until now. Not many senior police officers today are familiar with research results and not many police researchers conduct comparative research."

This has several reasons: first, there has never been a foundation like CEPOL as an institution to further this interplay, and neither EUROPOL nor the European Commission has strongly urged the distribution or link of police research in the European countries. Second, there has never been a medium like a journal on policing, where research had been widely accessible. Third, in many member-states police research is missing at all. Given these deficiencies, Fijnaut recognised a historical chance for CEPOL to develop as a high-grade institution where science and training are equally important. CEPOL should be committed to further international research and establish new communication channels to foster teamwork on police science in Europe. To achieve this, Fijnaut suggested:

  • To establish a European Police Journal for the publication of research results
  • To publish a weekly Newsletter to communicate recent developments in policing in the different countries
  • To organise high-level Seminars to discuss projects and results
  • To establish a Research Advisory Committee that would have three tasks:
    • to develop a coherent research programme in an international level;
    • to start a book-series comprising the state-of-the-art of research in police culture, performance of policing, privatisation of policing, etc., and which would highlight technological, historical, cultural, political and legal issues of policing;
    • to organise an annual European Conference that is open to all practitioners and researchers.

With these reasonable suggestions the mission of CEPOL as the ultimate police training- and research institution in Europe could be strengthened.


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