2008 CEPOL European Police Research & Science Conference

For the sixth consecutive year, the European Police College organised its annual Police Research and Science Conference in 2008 on the outskirts of Vienna, in Brunn am Gebirge. As a flagship event for CEPOL’s research and science activities, it aimed to support the dissemination of results of research and the optimization of co-operation between police training institutions, universities, research institutes and researchers in the field of police science.

In 2008, the hosting country Austria had, supported by Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, centred the event around the topic of “Comparative Policing Research from a European Perspective: with a Focus on Organised Crime”. By taking EUROPOL’s ‘Organised Crime Threat Assessment’-Report (OCTA) as a case in point, the invited experts and participants were invited to tackle questions around how a comparative scientific approach can (pro-)actively support the development of best practice in police training and police practice in Europe.

Almost 80 participants, representing equally police trainers, researchers and police practitioners, followed the invitation, and listened to the contributions of twelve invited expert speakers from EU member states and European Institutions like Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. In several workshops the topics were deepened and the participants had the opportunity for directly exchanging knowledge and opinions.

Following welcome addresses by the Director of the Austrian Sicherheitsakademie, Mr. Norbert Leitner, and the Conference Manager, Mr. János Fehérváry, as well as a presentation of CEPOL’s research and science activities by the (then) chairperson of CEPOL’s Training and Research Committee, Mr. Salvatore Siena, the first day of the conference was dedicated to the keynote addresses of three distinguished European experts on the field of organized crime.

The round of keynotes was opened by Prof. Hans-Jörg Albrecht, Director of the Max-Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (Freiburg, Germany) with a comprehensive introduction on the topic with the title “Police, Policing and Organised Crime – Lessons from organised crime research”. Looking closely at available research knowledge about organised crime, the policing of organised crime and the results of what he called ‘organised crime policies’ he guided the audience through a collection of empirical facts and findings, not without highlighting how little is known about certain aspects. He made a point in stating that “organised crime” remains a controversial issue, not only for definitional or measurement difficulties, but also for its complex link with the broader issue of ‘security’ and its ramifications in modern societies and their politics of threat containment. Implicit problems of measuring the performance of police actions were illustrated by contrasting the number of wiretaps (per 100.000 population) applied with the number of convictions per wiretap in the USA, Australia and Germany: figures suggested the more wiretaps the lesser the rate of conviction per wiretap. In his conclusions he emphasized the need for informed perspectives on the phenomena as well as on the various efforts to contain the problem with methods of policing, but remained sceptical about the ability of policy makers to listen to available research knowledge.

Focusing in on the conference’s first day nominal topic, Prof. Michael Levi from Cardiff University (UK), offered his thoughts on “Organised Crime Threat Assessments – from an Academic’s scientific, but not wholly theoretical perspective”. Pointing out the recent institutional growth of the threat assessment business, he rejected strongly the usual separation of ‘academic’ and ‘practitioner’ perspective. Instead he offered a set of questions illustrating the key difficulties in threat assessment, EUROPOL and the OCTA report is confronted with. His remedy was to suggest a sophisticated approach centred around the concepts of harm, probability, impact and risk.

In the final keynotes of the day, Dr. László Salgó, Associate Professor of Criminal Law and Assistant Director of EUROPOL, presented first-hand knowledge regarding the “Scientific approach to the OCTA report from an analytical, operational point of view”. He gave a detailed account of the background and tasks of the OCTA report and explained comprehensively the methodological approach taken by EUROPOL. ‘Criminal markets’ and ‘regions’ are two major axis of analysis of the vast amount of data reported by the EU Member States, which are complemented by a third one: organised crime groups. Using a set of indicators, the OCTA report tries to identify these groups under a perspective to dismantle them and to rank them by threat level. Prof. Salgó also explained the advanced concept of ‘criminal hub’, developed for better understanding of facts that influence the dynamic of these groups across the EU. He concluded his contribution with an outlook on trends and threats, not saving his concern of the occasional undue political interference and delay.

Provided by three outstanding experts with a sweeping introduction into the topic of organised crime research in general and the difficulties of scientifically reliable observations, measurements and assessments in particular, the participants afterwards had the opportunity to exchange first reactions and to collectively prepare questions to the keynote speakers in three working groups.

Speakers of these working groups presented the main topics of discussions and major inquiries for the keynote speakers the next morning. A number of issued were raised, mainly picking on the issues brought up by the keynote speaker, like the problems of shared definition of organised crime and the difficulties to define a joint approach in a hugely diverse territory like the EU. Also the possibilities and limits of EUROPOL and its synthesized assessment efforts in face of mostly regional horizons of experiencing organised crime were pointed out in the discussion.

While the first day were dedicated to research into organised crime and the OCTA report in broader term, the conference continued on the second day from there with a more specific view on three selected areas within the organised crime topic assigned to working groups running in parallel. Their discussion process was triggered by so-called ‘kick-start addresses’ delivered by experts:

  • Illegal Drugs – Laurent Laniel, EMCDDA, Lisbon
  • Trafficking in Human Beings - Nick Kinsella, Human Trafficking Centre, UK
  • Financial Crime – Prof. Michael Levi, Cardiff University, UK

The outcomes of the intensive group work were reported in the afternoon to the plenum and discussed in their entirety. The outcomes reflected some of the general problems and issues of organised crime research and assessment identified earlier in the conference on the more concrete level of the three given topics.

On the third day finally, the conference programme shifted the attention from the very topics of organised crimes and their analytical reflection in the OCTA report towards the broader issue of comparative police research in the European setting.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham Hooper, Head of Operations Policing Policy and Practice NPIA (UK) brought his well-informed and inspiring practitioner’s perspective on “Cooperation in Policing in Europe – Current Trends and Future Challenges” to the fore. He looked, from a UK perspective, on the forthcoming challenges of European policing and the different ways how co-operation in policing could be achieved more effectively. Although very much grounded in the problems of co-operative operational policing, he explicitly encouraged the research community to ‘keep banging on the doors of police organisations’ to foster a more educated and effective approach to policing.

An equally compelling case for the potentially highly practical value of academic knowledge gained by research and science was presented by Prof. Cyrille Fijnaut (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) in his keynote address on “Reinforcing the European Dimension of Comparative Police Research”. By looking back into European history, Prof. Fijnaut underpinned his view, that policing in a European context had been cross-border and mutually influencing national models from the very beginnings in modernity. He showed that the different police co-operation projects on various levels are in a way a continuation and evolution of these earlier efforts. For him the Lisbon treaty, once ratified, will foster a trend to further convergence of policing in Europe, as legal and procedural harmonization will make co-operation on the ground much easier. In his conclusion he wondered about how little is actually known about police co-operation in Europe and pointed out ways how to overcome the practical obstacles for overcoming the shortcomings of comparative police research.

To discuss the “Implications for research and police science” from all that was said by the keynote speakers and the working group rapporteurs during the previous days as well as coming up with proposals for further steps was the tasks of the concluding panellists discussion round, featuring expert participants from EUROPOL, Germany, The Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Irrespective of the acknowledgement that practitioners’ and researchers’ perspective will require different approaches and are likely to focus on varying aspects of a phenomenon, the overall consent in the discussion was, that scientific methodology and academic analysis could indeed make a significant contribution to more successful efforts of policing. Specifically in regard to the OCTA report - as one of many instruments and initiatives to understand and tackle the organised crime phenomena in Europe - the keynote addresses and workshops were seen as shedding a brighter light on its actual contribution and value in the context of European policing.

This result of the panel discussion was echoed in the conference conclusion delivered by Conference Manager, Mr. Fehérváry when he pointed out that the main topic of the conference and the outcome of intensive discussions were an excellent example for showing the necessity and success of an objective and tolerant meeting between researchers / academics and police practitioners, both dealing with a sensitive topic in order to make strategies, methods and expectations of modern law enforcement programmes or projects more transparent and to avoid so misunderstandings or ignorance on either sides.

The conference was as one of CEPOL’s future oriented activities for the support and development of a European approach to the main problems facing Member States in the fight against crime and crime prevention, in particular with a strong cross-border and European dimension. In this, the conference can be seen as a successful contribution for bridging the gap between theoretical/academic and practical views and for showing the necessity to analyse new police strategies and methods empirically.

Dr. János Fehérváry, Head of Unit, Sicherheitsakademie, Austria

Dr. Detlef Nogala, Research and Knowledge Management Officer, CEPOL Secretariat

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