The road not taken: understanding barriers to the development of police intelligence practice

Adrian James, Mark Phythian, Fiona Wadie, Julian Richards

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To better understand police intelligence practice, we examined practitioners' views of their work and their relations with the wider law enforcement community. We surveyed intelligence staff (N=110), and interviewed a random sample of respondents (n=12). Our analysis suggested that traditionalism and the dominant action-oriented culture limit the organization's understanding of intelligence practice. Largely, the focus in that context has been on street cops' propensity to reject reflection in favour of action but intelligence practitioners need also look to themselves. Too often, the philosophy of 'need to know', is prioritized over its antithesis 'dare to share'. Though perceived by practitioners as low-risk and consistent with organisational norms, we argue that inappropriately applied, 'need to know' is the enemy of efficiency and real accountability, offering low levels of reward and discouraging the kinds of partnership, reciprocity and multi-directional knowledge transfer that policing needs, to be successful in the information age. We reconceptualised an interactivity/isolationism continuum, used in the natural sciences, to help interpret that phenomenon. We argue that isolationism is but one factor in a complex organisational dynamic but it is a significant one because it can subtly limit the influence and reach of the intelligence milieu in previously unacknowledged ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-91
Number of pages15
JournalThe International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs
Issue number2
Early online date18 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2017


  • knowledge transfer
  • intelligence practice
  • organisational culture
  • isolationism
  • interactivity


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