Implementation, challenges and consequences of the neighborhood police reform

This report examines how the Norwegian Community Police reform is currently being implemented in three police districts.

The researchers, Kristin Rubecksen and Annbjørg Ryssdal, have investigated what reform-challenges the police districts are facing, and the consequences this has had for the implementation of the reform.

The project has received funds from the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) and started in January 2017 with completion in December the same year.

We have been particularly interested in how the reform-decision is followed up, interpreted and operationalized locally, if police districts experience having the necessary financial and human resources available in the conversion-process, how the districts perceive the flow of information from central level actors, and what significance support or opposition to the reform has had for the implementation work. The study is based on qualitative interviews with employees in the police organization at various levels in the three police districts (police district commissionaires, local project managers, middle managers and union representatives). Document-studies represent a key source of information in order to get a better insight into the reform history and institutional characteristics of the police.

A community-based police indicate local anchoring and a closeness to the public. There is still widespread skepticism about the use of the term "community police reform", especially because key measures in the reform involve some form of centralization. The term “community police" has resulted in a lot of criticism from different directions, and has led to an "energy leakage" at the district level, where much time and effort has been used to communicate and explain what the reform is about. This applies to the public, the media, and municipalities - but also internally in the local police organization. For municipalities, the community police reform takes place alongside other comprehensive reform processes such as municipal reform, regional reform, and centralization of other government services and jobs.

The three police districts have operationalized «community police” in slightly different ways. Some districts have actively chosen a decentralization-strategy, where the closeness of the police and the "community police" have been defined as citizens’ equal access to police functions, even though these functions will be geographically spread throughout the police district. Thus, the physical presence of the rolling police patrol in the local community has not been the key component of operationalization and interpretation of what a close and community-based police should be. Other police districts use the image of the rolling police patrol, visible and present in the local community, as a core component of "the close police".

Copyright: Colurbox

There seems to be a widespread consensus in the need for police reform. Many of the informants feel it was high time with a change of a police organization that had become outdated structurally, in focus and methods. Particularly in cross-border crime and cybercrime there has been a great desire for change and increased competencies. The reform’s ambition to build more robust, specialized professional communities is perceived as an important step in the right direction. However, several feel the reform does not go far enough at this point. There is little focus on strengthening other necessary skills in the police organization in addition to personnel with a police-training background or judicial expertize. Some informants believe the reform follows a rather traditional and conservative trace, involving more adjustments or a "flickering" on the existing structures than building new ones. Some perceive the community police reform as a reform that only hits "half" of the police, as the prosecution-trail is not included in the reform. On the other hand, the reform has also opened up some new opportunities for the police districts that have been difficult to establish before the reform. This concerns the establishment of some new functions at the local level, as well as access to technical equipment and materials.

The reform-objective of greater similarities in police services and functions is particularly well received. Our informants emphasized that inequalities in police services between districts have been perceived as a problem. Similar cases should be treated equally, independently of geography. The new structural measures in the police districts with the establishment of joint administrative functions, functional and geographical operating units, are largely positively perceived and received. This will probably contribute to greater similarities in police services in the long term. However, there is a limit to the desirable extent of similarity or equableness between police districts, given the districts' large variations in population density, geographic distances and crime scene. The informants also refer to more intrinsic tensions in the objectives of the community police reform, such as the tensions centralization - proximity, prevention – preparedness.

Our informants describe the Police Directorate's project management of the reform-implementation as very professional , and skilled professionals in the directorate have followed the districts closely. However, the internal coordination within the directorate has on occasion been perceived as rather poor. Signals and expectations from the professional communities in the directorate have reached the police district simultaneously without any form of prioritization and before the corresponding professional communities has been in place locally. This has caused frustration in the police districts. The information flow from central-level actors to the local level regarding the reform and the implementation is perceived as good, but comprehensive. The informants express that it is occasionally challenging and demanding with a directorate that is subjected to large degrees of detail-oriented steering by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The informants also want a more long-term perspective in the follow-up of the reform from central level. There is some concern in the police districts about losing focus before the new structures have settled.

Local project leaders managers in the police districts are described by our informants as being key change-agents locally and have had an important role in the operationalization and design of the reform in the districts. Interaction with professional organizations and union representatives is emphasized as critical success factors for successful implementation. However, the short deadlines of the reform create poor conditions for inclusion and participation locally according to some of our informants. Management style, responsiveness, and accessibility for employees are considered to be essential factors that the police district commissionaires must take good care of during the implementation process.

Lack of funding of the reform is viewed as the most critical challenge in the implementation process. The police districts find that they do not have the necessary financial or human resources available in implementing the reform. Insufficient resources pose a risk to the core functions of the organization and have resulted in the districts having to make tough local priorities.

Link to the project: Reforming the Norwegian police - implementation, altering challenges and consequences.

July 13, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

cp: 2019-12-04 11:17:31