The police lack systematic plans to increase expertise, according to new research
Gang crime, digital fraud and transnational crime are increasing. But the police lack systems to increase agency competence, according to senior managers in the Norwegian Police Sverice.
Traditional criminal offenses are declining in Norway, but new forms of crime are on the rise.
Organized crime, like cross-border roving raids and human trafficking, has become more widespread. And more offenses are being carried out digitally, such as ID theft, financial fraud over the internet and data breaches into businesses.
Nigerian letters have been replaced by emails where the recipient is the "lucky heir" to a large fortune. The only downside is that you have to pay a few thousand dollars to get the money transferred.
“You could say that there’s been a shift from local to digital robbers,” says associate professor Rune Glomseth at the Norwegian Police University College in Oslo.
The same development is happening in several European countries.
Digital fraud and organized crime growing
This trend is only going to increase in the future, according to senior management in the Norwegian Police Service.
But how well equipped are the police to deal with modern forms of crime while simultaneously preventing and solving traditional offenses?
Not well enough, admit top managers in the Norwegian police and prosecuting authority.
The police service lacks plans and organization for systematic skill development and learning. Police managers admit that they have not focused adequately on these issues.
This is one of the main findings of a new report published by Glomseth, who does research on police organization and management.
“I wanted to ask the police managers directly about the development trends in the agency, future challenges, changes in management and management processes and any barriers to development,” said Glomseth.
National police commissioner and police chiefs
Glomseth interviewed 16 senior managers from the police and Norwegian prosecuting authority about how the reorganization has evolved since Norway’s 2015 police reform.
Former National Police Commissioner Odd Reidar Humlegård, current National Police Commissioner Benedicte Bjørnland and former Attorney General Tor-Aksel Busch are included in the study. The attorney general has overall responsibility for all criminal proceedings of the police, as well as his own prosecuting authority.
In addition, the study includes four leaders in special units such as Økokrim (economic and environmental crime), Kripos (organized and serious crime) and PST (police security agency), as well as eight police chiefs who are top managers in their police districts. The number of police districts was reduced from 27 to 12 as a result of the police reform.
Top managers were given the opportunity to respond freely about developments in the agency, the role of leadership and future challenges. Glomseth's study is based on analyses of the recurring survey responses.
Better equipped, but challenges increasing
In recent years, the police have been given more resources. They now have more modern, technological equipment at their disposal, and operation centres have been strengthened. A new interrogation method has been introduced and the mobile intervention concept (MIK) has been introduced in the Oslo police district.
Defence and intelligence units have been strengthened and given new helicopters. Special investigations have also been strengthened, which was one of the goals of the police reform.
The quality of police officer training has improved since creating the three-year university college bachelor’s degree programme with the opportunity to take a master’s. The police force has become more professional and legal protections have improved, according to the managers.
The police have focused more on results, and the diversity and gender balance have also improved.
Despite all these positive changes, the job has become more demanding. New forms of crime present significant challenges to the police force.
Investigating digital, economic fraud that takes place across national borders, for example, is challenging and complicated, requiring multiple resources in terms of expertise, equipment and crews.
Challenging balancing act
Managers note that preventing and resolving offenses is more complex than it used to be.
Social developments in recent years, such as globalization, digitization, migration, cultural and religious trends and strengthening individual rights make assignments more demanding.
Modern technology has provided police with tools to prevent crime and identify fraudulent behaviour. But the same technology is also a useful tool for criminals to carry out financial scams and cause other damage.
Administrators also find it challenging to balance citizens’ and politicians’ expectations and address the media's need for information.
The goal is for the police force to do their jobs within the regulations and gain the confidence of the population.
Need plans for enhancing skills
Operational training has become more systematic.
“Operational training, like firearms training and other physical training, are now thorough and comprehensive and at a high level,” says Glomseth, who attended police training and worked in the police force before becoming a researcher on organization and management.
But many senior managers in the police force admit other skills development is lacking.
The managers did point out some bright spots. The national police website for competence sharing, KO:DE, was pointed out as a step forward.
Regular feedback meetings received praise, where officers can give feedback on the police and prosecutorial work in selected cases. This method provides good opportunities for learning and to share experiences.
But apart from these examples, managers have not been giving the necessary priority to systematic planning for skills development and learning.
“This lack involves planning, processes and systems at all organizational levels – that is, the entire police service from the Police Directorate on down to each police district and special unit and each department and section,” says Glomseth.
Former attorney general Busch is among those who believe the focus on systematic and strategic learning and skills development in the police and prosecuting authority has been inadequate.
Lack of time due to police reform
The senior managers were asked what other barriers exist that hinder skill and expertise development.
Many of them pointed out that the police have constant assignments and tasks. The 24/7 continuous duty and shift schedules make it difficult to convene all the employees for new learning opportunities.
A senior leader put it this way: Police reform and everything it entails is a barrier to learning and development. Operations and reform measures are stressful and create a barrier to skill-building.
Some officers also believed that the police lacked the culture for organizational learning.
Police officers’ lack of humility, combined with overconfidence, hinders learning and development, in the opinion of a few top administrators. The police need to become better at developing police officers who are interested and want to be engaged in lifelong learning.
Another senior administrator felt that career planning in the police force is underdeveloped. He suggests the agency could learn a lot from the Norwegian armed forces in this regard.
Yet another survey participant believes that militant leadership style among police can be a problem.
For many years, leaders with command training have characterized the police force. Many exhibit a militant management approach rather than leadership. This kind of leadership style does not work with knowledge-based workers, according to this manager.
Several senior managers pointed out that leaders do not follow up on learning and development at all levels.
Lots of other instructions
The lack of systematic development plans can seem paradoxical, since instructions exist for most other aspects of police training, such as how to use firearms or how to make an arrest.
Since the survey interviewees are senior managers, it would seem they carry the responsibility for this.
“You can say that. But the managers explain the weak focus on systematic development with the time pressures they face, and that the day-to-day operations take all the time they have,” says Glomseth.
“Senior managers also report that strategic skill building is a low priority,” says the researcher.
One top manager thinks central control is too weak in this area and believes a strategic plan should be both national and local.
A couple of top managers felt that the police leaders lacked expertise in how to work on continuous learning and development.
“We’re probably not that good at prioritizing, facilitating and systematizing organizational learning. We’re not knowledgeable enough in this field, and it’s not given high enough priority,” one of the senior managers said unambiguously.
“We’re too weak on the management side,” admitted one of the participants.
Transfer value for other industries
Glomseth kept the survey responses anonymous in the report, but says the answers were quite similar across the board.
He emphasizes that he cannot answer whether these conditions are prevalent in all the police districts, because he only interviewed eight of the twelve police chiefs.
Although the study involves two government agencies, Glomseth believes the results may also have transfer value for managers and people in leadership in general.
“Expertise and learning are important factors in any organization. This is obviously important for knowledge-based organizations,” says Glomseth.
The study is scheduled to be part of a professional book on police leadership and senior management in the police and prosecuting authorities.
Translated by Ingrid P. Nuse
Rune Glomseth: Toppledere og toppledelse i politi og påtalemyndighet [Top managers and senior management in police and prosecuting authorities]. Summary (in Norwegian). Report from the Norwegian Police University College, 2020.
Magne Aarset, Rune Glomseth: Police Leadership During Challenging Times. Summary. Policing and Minority Communities, 2019. Springer International Publishing.