03/10/2011

Decision making in policing

6566196-3d-illustration-of-warning-ribbons-with-caution-text-isolated-over-white.jpgSome years ago, Pierre Aepli, in his role as consultant for the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), agreed to accept the responsibility of developing the working group Intelligence, Risk Analysis and Investigation of DCAF’s Border Security Programme in Southeast Europe. Its goal was to assist the governments of South-East Europe (SEE) to establish reliable and efficient border security systems; thus the DCAF and its partners developed a program aimed at providing assistance, ranging from national-capacity building to the development of regional operational cooperation mechanisms. The Intelligence Working Group aimed at setting up structures, methods and procedures to improve decisionmaking and cooperation processes through the integration of intelligence analysis.


Olivier Ribaux, who had contributed to the introduction of analysis in the police force led by Pierre Aepli, and who was teaching crime and forensic intelligence at the University of Lausanne, was part of the working group. Pierre and Olivier, together with Inge Lindsaar and Marko Saareks, two officers of the border guard of Estonia and Finland, respectively, developed and conducted a series of three seminars over the course of several years.

The experiences gained during the seminars – specifically the preparation, implementation and debriefing phases of the activity – led us to identify the clear need to better integrate intelligence into the decision-making process. Pierre and Olivier decided to move beyond the seminar to take advantage of all their experience, related to the coursework as well as to their professional activities, to write a book to address the issue. The first approach was to focus on the role of intelligence in decision-making, but it immediately became clear that the real subject was the decision-process itself. Intelligence remained a capital factor in this process, but the authors saw the benefit of emphasizing the different phases of the process and to place it within its organizational environment; hence the developments tackling the issues of strategy, structures, and leadership.

The experience of our third author Everett Summerfield, a chief superintendant of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seconded to DCAF, provided a new perspective that proved beneficial during the preparation of the book. Friendship, professionalism, excellent coordination and absolute respect of the deadlines have been the factors of success of the editing of the book.

Decision Making in Policing has been structured on three levels to optimize its utility to the reader. Theoretical elements are provided in order to introduce fundamental aspects and existing approaches of decision-making in policing. To render the reading less abstract, case studies are developed to illustrate the concepts through the description of practical situations. Finally, the book makes extensive use of tables, which aim to provide a synthesis between the authors’ personal experiences and the interpretation of the theory. In addition, they should be used as checklists that support decision makers in elaborating their own procedures.

The authors address Decision Making in Policing to managers of the police at all levels, where it will prove useful during their daily tasks.

Understanding, organizing and improving law-enforcement activities

Every police officer has to make decisions on a daily basis. A decision entails a choice between different approaches to solving a problem. The consequences of these decisions may be trivial or may have repercussions on the lives of others. Frequently, if not always, time, information and analytical capabilities are lacking, resulting in rational decisions being supplanted by intuitive reactions with unforeseen consequences. While there is no way to ensure that in each case a sound decision will always be made, it is possible nonetheless to reduce the risks of poor outcomes by selecting the right people and preparing them through teaching and training. To such a degree, a clear decision-making process should not only reduce the risks of poor decisions, it should also offer a useful method to follow in times of crisis, as a means to restore a degree of order amidst otherwise chaotic conditions. In such contexts, the use of a specific methodology for decision-making represents a considerable advantage, and the book is designed for that purpose.

The function of the book is intended to inform various aspects that are involved in the decision-making process of policing. Firstly, it is the aim of the book to offer a comprehensive decision-making methodology and provide elements intended to assist those required to make decisions in a law enforcement context. The contents of the book are not constrained by the level of hierarchy at which an individual operates; the elements of the decision-making process remain the same irrespective of hierarchy. Accordingly, the book will focus systematically on different phases of the decision-making process. This will be expounded on not only by examining in detail each of the phases involved, but also by considering the broader context within which the process takes place, notably the operational context. Furthermore, the book will employ real life examples in the discussion of issues such as operational structures, tactics, and command, allowing it to serve as a tool for both academics and practitioners. Practices and examples taken from the military and the business world will be used to refer to the breadth of applicability of the decision-making methodology. Many of these practices and methods, particularly in the management1 of operations and administrative affairs, have been integrated into police framework.

As mentioned, a primary task of the book is to outline the possible improvement of the decision making process; but before considering the prospects of improvement, certain conditions need to be met:

• A methodology is developed and this methodology complements the entirety of the decision-making process.
• A necessary coherence links the ends, the ways and the means in which decisions are made and implemented.
• The duties and responsibilities between different actors are clearly defined, as well as their roles at different phases of the process.
• Adequate structures, tactics, leadership styles and command processes support the decision-making process.
• Acknowledgment of the key role of information at all phases of the process.
• Identification of biases and hindrances in the decision-making process.

Correspondingly, the book will emphasize the fundamental function of “information” throughout the entire decision-making process. Though the specific understanding of “information” adopted here will be dealt with in detail later in the book, it is important to emphasize at the outset that while intelligence-led policing has become very popular, the full value of this approach can only be realized if intelligence is integrated holistically throughout the decision, implementation and evaluation processes.2 For this reason, intelligence-led policing is not a stand-alone concept that is in opposition to other models of policing, such as problem-oriented policing or community-oriented policing, but rather they are mutually enforcing. For instance, intelligence-led policing is a top-down model while community oriented policing is considered a bottom-up model. The integration of these different models – conceived as a means of attaining greater efficiency – must not only be achieved through the implementation of intelligence systems within police forces, but must also be translated into organizational measures, procedures, leadership styles, and training programs.

How then does the book contribute to current work in this field? Indeed, the added value of the book is derived from its integrated and systemic approach, situating the decision-making process within a larger context, as well as identifying the actors involved. The complexity of each specific process will naturally depend upon the type of decision and the level at which it is taken, but the basic methodology will in most cases remain the same.

Each chapter follows a consistent structure:

• A short introduction;
• A theoretical section;
• Practical applications with methods, tables, check lists and examples;
• A summary of key points and factors that are most likely to contribute to risks or successes during the implementation phase.

> To learn more

 Extracted from Decision Making in Policing
Written by Pierre Aepli, Olivier Ribaux, Everett Summerfield
Published by The EPFL Press

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