Welcome to this Special Issue of the Nordic Journal of Studies in Policing (NJSP), which is specifically aimed at methodological challenges, limits, and possibilities for future research on policing and the police!

The aim of the issue is to explore the conditions under which research on policing is facilitated and regulated by the research community, the state, and other stakeholders in the Nordic region. The Special Issue came about based on an initiative from the Young Nordic Police Research Network (YNPRN) and the NJSP. YNPRN is a network composed of early career researchers, graduate and post graduate students from a range of disciplines, including but not limited to members from the Nordic states. While some members have or have had careers within the police, either as former police officers and/or as current employees, others are positioned more firmly outside the police and/or have a background in social and legal studies or the humanities.

The idea behind this Special Issue on Police Research Methods was to open up for papers addressing the regulation of access to data, challenges in producing critical research, and the significance of the researcher's institutional affiliation. In our call for papers, we welcomed contributions that discussed the possibilities and pitfalls associated with new technological possibilities, as well as discussions on methodological, ethical and/or legal challenges in the multidisciplinary field of police research.

In this issue you may read about “Old and New Methods in Police Research”. In this paper, Professor Silje Fekjær at OsloMet describes widely used methods in Scandinavian police research, including their strengths and weaknesses, and suggests methods for future police research. Fekjær argues that thick, in-depth descriptions and closeness to the field are strengths in today’s police research. She however raises the issue of applying other methods (e.g., natural variation designs, vignette studies, and field experiments) when the aim is to generalise, provide representativeness, and knowledge regarding causal relationships. In addition, more use of existing police data, for instance registers, is suggested. Fekjær argues that greater methodological variation can address new questions in future police research and widen the horizon of Scandinavian police research; especially, if the aim is to improve the possibilities for making causal claims, and improve external validity.

Further, in his paper “On academic freedom for police researchers”, Professor Morten Holmboe, at the Norwegian Police University College, discusses ethical and legal challenges related to the principles voluntary participation and informed consent. Empirically Holmboe investigates the Norwegian legislation in relation to the issue of protection of sources from the standpoint of academics’ freedom, with some examples from other countries. Holmboe asks if the rules of confidentiality for researchers needs to be clarified. A clarification could strengthen the researchers’ freedom to work with informants who are especially concerned about the risk of their identity being revealed to the authorities. The article is highly relevant, considering that many police researchers often do commissioned work for the authorities and/or are employed by institutions that are financed as part of the police and justice sector. Holmboe thus especially discusses questions pertaining to informal signals from the authorities, and the situation when authorities ask for answers to research questions they find important. The article underlines the value of academic freedom as a guiding principle for the way researchers should deal with disagreement between themselves and each other.

In the paper “Police research methodology: Studying police officers who deviate from ‘the police culture’”, PhD Candidate Tobias Kammersgaard, Aarhus University, argues that the study of individual police officers’ practices, attitudes and knowledge may contribute to professional development of the police. While much police research historically has been concerned with police culture and thus similarities in values, attitudes and practices between police officers, Kammersgaard makes the case that studying heterogeneity through case studies of individual officers who do things differently from their colleagues can be a fruitful way to engage with problematic policing practices. The author demonstrates his suggested approach by analysing an encounter with a participant from his empirical work.

In the last paper, “Quantifying the geographic (un)reliability of police data” by Senior Lecturer Manne Gerell, Malmø University, the topic is how place-based policing has attracted a substantial amount of attention, not least in relation to hot spot policing – policing efforts that depend on geographical analysis of where crime takes place. While it is well known that police crime data may be flawed, less is known about the extent to which the geographical reliability of these data constitutes a problem. The study attempts to quantify the extent of this problem by investigating and combining different data sources, in for instance locations for car arson incidents as recorded by the rescue services and police, respectively. The resulting quantification of differences shows that the median error for the police data is 83 meters. This presents a potential pitfall for geographical analysis, both for researchers using police data and for the police themselves in their operational and strategic analysis of crime.

In addition to the articles, we present a review of the PhD thesis, “Mind the Blues: Swedish Police Officers’ Mental Health and Forced Deportation of Unaccompanied Refugee Children” written by Franko (2018).

We hope that you will find this Special Issue of interest and value both on a conceptual as well as a practical level. As shown by the authors, future discussions on Police Research Methods need not be limited to stories from ethnographers and field researchers struggling to get access, and the critical limits of the insider/outsider positions. In essence, we hope to have turned the question of how you do your research into a question of what are the material and structural conditions that allows it to be done.

There is a Welsh proverb stating that if you get ahead, you should build a bridge. For us, the editors of this Special Issue, getting ahead means finding ways to increase future generations of police researchers’ ability and motivation to think more collectively about how we do our research, what our long-term goals are, and how we can promote collaborative and comparative studies across the Nordic region. We therefore invite you to a stroll on our bridge, and wish you an enjoyable walk!

Best wishes from the Special Issue Editors