2010 CEPOL European Police Research & Science Conference

Practical Research and Research Practice – Police Science into a New Decade

Conference organiser’s conclusion

The aim of the conference was to strengthen the importance of interaction between academia and practitioners. This interaction will ultimately help to shape and hone research to focus more directly on real concerns during investigations. The focus on the police, both politically and academically, has been on methods, organisational structures and culture - often related to specific cases where media, politicians and others have all raised questions about the decision making procedures that lead to some actual negative results. From the ultimate questions “what went wrong” and “who could be blamed for it” we are changing into a culture of knowledge-based policing with officers themselves asking the 5 “wh- “ questions, i.e. Who, what, where, when & who. The research-based knowledge of policing has increased significantly in volume over the last two decades and several institutions educating police officers have changed drastically, realising the importance of theoretically informed officers coping with the demands set by the society they are serving. In recognition of this development of police science the conference could offer a program which the paramount objective was to present:

  • well established researchers and projects taking place in Europe;
  • the importance of a knowledge based approach in police work;
  • arenas where academics and practitioners could meet for mutual discussions

In the discussion about Practical Research and Research Practice some delegates raised their concern that too many academics do not have enough knowledge of how police work is conducted in practice. According to them, this lack of procedural knowledge leads to a considerable proportion of research being conducted in areas where the researcher find topics of interest – and not in the areas where the practitioners might find their daily challenges.

Secondly, the lack of knowledge about police routines does lead to lack of ecological validity in many of the studies that are conducted. In 2010, the studies of officers should be conducted on officers.

Thirdly, many studies are conducted in the search for what went wrong, and why. For the police this is of course important, however, there are very few studies on episodes or routines that are positive. For example, where the police made the right decisions, and why they got the positive result. What are we doing that is working positively, and why?

The fourth challenge mentioned, is that most academics are writing for other academics, publishing in academic journals for an international academic audience. For the practitioners to be able to take part in the results, the researchers should also take more time to publish their findings in magazines and journals that are easier to get hold of than subscriptions to a wide range of specific and expensive journals. For the results, libraries and internet could cover for some of it, but not all.

For the police - in the communication between the academics and practitioners, the delegates’ presentations highlighted four challenges:

  1. First of all there is no tradition within the police to read academic literature; and especially within police science, there seems to be more skepticism against social science compared to natural science, such as physics and biology, with the stereotypical view of social sciences being more soft, less accurate and more of common sense.
  2. In the police there are is also an old tradition of “learning by doing”. In most police educations there has been a limited experience about police research and training in methodology.
  3. Another problem is the lack of tradition in using academics, such as for example forensic psychologists, in the ongoing investigation and in court as expert witness for the prosecution. Instead the expert witness are most used by the defense - and again - this might lead to the before mentioned focus on negative findings and questions where police made mistakes.
  4. There are also very little traditions within the police to give researchers access to the vast amount of data the police have, so the researchers might see the challenges the investigators have and getting access to authentic material to conduct research on.

From the delegates perspective the police officers at all levels could also be more specific and open in their discussions with researchers, identifying some of the questions they find interesting and would like the researchers to work on. In order for the police to get more out of research their aptitude to commission research must be improved. The police must be able to make sound judgments on the quality of studies and plans of research. Unfortunately the police often have vague ideas of what academics, given their training and experience, actually can accomplish.

More and more officers are conducting their Masters and also PhDs and most promising many of the presenters reported that the officers remain within the organizations after achieving their academic degrees, contributing with insight to both the academic and operational world.

Over all, the organizing committee was impressed over the enthusiasm from all participants. The conference demonstrated that CEPOL is a relevant platform for the important exchange of knowledge and experience. On behalf of CEPOL and the organizing committee we will thank all the participants for their enthusiasm and commitment that made this conference to what it was.

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