‘What works?’ in police intelligence practice?

Adrian David James, Mark Phythian, Julian Richards, Fiona Charlotte Wadie

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


This paper analyses police intelligence practice in Britain. Initially, the aim was to assess intelligence practice through the lens of the ‘what works?’ concept. Dominating public sector policy making today, the idea that evidence-based practice (EBP) may provide the institution with the knowledge it needs to better manage its business, is now is akin to a mantra for British policing but this study suggests that there are limits to the explanatory power of ‘what works’?A review of relevant literature complemented a survey of a self-selected group of intelligence staff; a random sample of their number also was interviewed. Participants reflected on: their skills and abilities; their training; their successes and their failures; and the utility of the structures and processes within which they operated. Data were analysed using standard research tools. Respondents broadly agreed on what contributed to effective practice. Analysts,intelligence officers and managers ranked a skilled workforce as of greatest import. Human intelligence (HUMINT); operational teams, capable of responding quickly to intelligence;information technology; and plentiful sources of intelligence in their communities, were consistently ranked the top four significant factors in their successes. Directors’ of intelligence(DOIs) rankings varied only to the extent that HUMINT placed first. Respondents also highlighted the direction and control of intelligence; partner and community engagement; and shortcomings in information technology and equipment as significant limiting factors. The research suggests that the credibility of intelligence staffs, their practice, and products are key to persuading others of the value of intelligence to the police institution.Ultimately, the ‘what works?’ approach may have value in policing but it raises important,largely ignored, questions about institutional memory and identity. Often, as in this case, other research methods will need to be employed to identify better practice. Even when that is achieved, institutional and cultural factors represent significant barriers to the adoption of EBP in policing.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
Publication statusUnpublished - May 2016


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