Do European police forces know what happens across borders?

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A four-year interdisciplinary project on organisational change in police forces funded by the EU and led by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) has just been completed, and the results are in. According to Comparative Police Studies in the EU (COMPOSITE), change programmes, introduced within European police forces to modernise and rationalise policing, have delivered both successes and hiccups.

The COMPOSITE project, which was co-ordinated by RSM’s Dr Gabriele Jacobs, gathered information from 26 different police forces in 10 countries, making it the biggest study into policing in Europe to date. It turns out that all EU countries can learn from each other. The project reveals how the sharing of knowledge, best practices and information between police forces across Europe is hindered by unfamiliarity of methods and cultures in other national forces. National police forces across Europe differ greatly from one another, not only in their practices and technologies, but also because of forces’ national identities and their preferred ways of communicating internally and with the public.

New crimes need new methods

New types of crime, open borders, new technologies, changing public expectations and tighter financial resources require more efficiently managed police forces that can co-operate with forces in other countries as well. To make that change, many police forces not too long ago introduced ambitious change programmes, aiming at modernising and rationalising the way policing is conducted. However, the COMPOSITE project found police forces across Europe are often unaware of methods and management approaches used by their neighbours, although crime is often international and knowledge about how other countries deal with crime is essential to share across countries.

The way changes in policing need to be implemented, differs from one country to the next due to cultural, organisational, societal, regional, ethnic, and religious diversity. COMPOSITE’s goal was to understand this diversity to improve the planning to support police forces to improve the planning and execution of their change initiatives based on academic principles. For example, by demonstrating that the content and process of changes needs to be well aligned with the cultural and societal context in a country.

Different perspectives on change

COMPOSITE provided further evidence for the fact that change within police forces cannot be approached with a “one size fits all” approach. In detail, this means that police officers and the public differ in their acceptance of police activities and change initiatives in terms of the role police should have in society (citizen service or crime fighter) and the role the public should have (inclusive or exclusive). Comparing views of more than 10,000 participants from police, citizens and media representatives across the 10 COMPOSITE countries, the project found that respondents in the countries and three groups differ in their acceptance of specific changes. Where different groups have different preferences, this may have implications for cross-country collaborations as well as stakeholder relations since they may find it harder to collaborate and may have different expectations regarding change directions.

In general, police officers across participating countries were most supportive of a move towards more crime-fighting and exclusive patterns of policing. In contrast, the media group was most supportive of a move towards citizen-service and inclusive forms of policing. All three groups, citizens, police and media, were broadly unsupportive of a change scenario that would see members of the public play a greater role in law enforcement and crime fighting roles

What it means to be a police officer

The COMPOSITE project also surveyed police officers’ perspectives on what it means to be a police professional. Researchers identified five contrasting views that police officers have of themselves across Europe: the professional service-providers, the hands-on enforcers, community-oriented civil-rights protectors, resource-driven independents and state crime-fighters. But these profiles were not clearly linked with differences in terms of countries or rank levels, although ‘professional service-providers’ emerged as a strong profile for Dutch and Czech officers. These identities can become important when forces collaborate, or in the implementation of change projects. Subsequent studies will therefore explore the link between police professional identities and the behaviour of individual officers.

The COMPOSITE project

This four-year project started in 2010 and involved research partners from 10 European countries, namely Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The 15 participating organisations included universities, business schools, police academies, technical research institutes and a consultancy organisation. To ensure that the academic research results will find their way into daily practice, 25 police forces from the participating countries were actively involved in the research and dissemination of the project’s results. The project was funded by the European Commission in the context of the FP7-Framework on Security Research. The research translates into multidisciplinary publications, partly already put into action or currently in preparation. Yet even more importantly, COMPOSITE also created and creates policy and management advice in co-operation with the involved police forces to support national policing and international cooperation. Insights will also be translated into academic advice, executive training and pre- and post-graduate teaching throughout Europe.                                                                             

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is ranked among Europe’s top 10 business schools for education and among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and in Taipei, Taiwan.

For more information about RSM or on this release, please contact Ramses Singeling, Media Officer on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at

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