New research group with a focus on applied police research

Crime Scene at Sagastigen

The research environment at the Faculty of Police Work is in its infancy. The Police Education Programme was established at the University of Borås in 2019 and since January last year, research has been conducted at the Faculty within the framework of the Police Studies Research Group (FPS for its Swedish name, Forskargruppen för polisiära studier).

The research group may be completely new, but it consists of several well-regarded researchers who have the ambition of being of aid to police work in Sweden.

“The idea is that our police research should be closely tied to the field. That is, research about the police and for police operations. We also want our research to involve practitioners of police work,” said Micael Björk, Visiting Professor and Head of Research at the Faculty of Police Work.

Exchanges between science and practice

The ambition is clear: the research must be relevant to police work. An important element of this goal is that the research group mixes both academic researchers and police teachers with long experience of the police profession and the Swedish Police.

Two of the members of the research group are Lena Matthijs, former police head for Region West, and Kristofer Nilsson, who has extensive experience of public safety police work. Both now work as teachers in the Police Education Programme.

“Our role in this group is to create a balance between research experience and empirical experience. I have worked for 35 years at various levels within the Swedish Police Authority and really see the importance of the authority’s taking into account the latest research,” said Lena Matthijs.

The Swedish Police Authority is described by Lena Matthijs as a problem-solving organisation, but where follow-up and evaluation leave something to be desired.

“We police are very good at coming up with new methods and solutions to problems, but in order to really be able to streamline and test our methods, we need research,” she continued.

Kristofer Nilson is in agreement. Today, there is a gap between theory and practice that is important to try to bridge.

“Many discussions recently have been about recruiting more police officers, but better policing is also about using our resources in the most efficient way possible. Here, it is important to take advantage of knowledge and research, so that they become a part of practice,” said Kristofer Nilsson.

Constant dialogue very important

Charlotta Thodelius is Senior Lecturer in Criminology and an experienced researcher. She has worked in several different research environments and highlights the importance of a continual dialogue between different actors.

“I feel that the dynamic environment that exists within this research group provides exactly the right conditions for me as a researcher not to get caught in any ‘research bubble.’ Here, I have an opportunity to find out from the police which issues are important here and now, but also to have the opportunity to validate my research results against a real context,” she explained.

The applied approach not only provides opportunities but also poses challenges. That’s something that Therese Bäckman, Senior Lecturer in Law, is certain of.

“The environment is challenging in a positive sense, as it places greater demands on us as researchers to come up with research projects and questions that can actually be used. We have a constant exchange in which the police ask us questions, wonder about things, and point things out. The police teachers' experiences are very meaningful to us as researchers,” she said.

Research important for students

Applied work means close collaboration with various police organisations in Sweden. But it is at least as important that the research is made available to the students so that the knowledge is imparted to new and future police officers.

“It is important not to forget the students. They are curious and thirsty for knowledge. I can, for example, present an ongoing research project for them to discuss; that is also an important aspect of applied research,” said Charlotta Thodelius.

Kristofer Nilsson also sees great benefits for students in building up the research environment.

“Police education is a fantastically good platform for being able to influence the police of the future. Newly trained police officers bring with them the latest knowledge, and sometimes it can be knowledge that ‘older’ police officers have acquired only after several years of experience,” he said.

Many different research perspectives

The Police Studies Research Group conducts research on the work of policing and other security work in deprived areas, crime prevention work in schools, legal conditions for urban development, and the connection between crime and lack of place management in urban environments. Within the Police Studies Research Group, police history and suicide research are also represented. The different research perspectives may seem scattered at first glance, but this is something that is completely natural and necessary, according to Johan Sundeen, who is a historian of ideas and knowledge and who is interested in, among other things, police history.

“We must not forget that the research group has a close connection with police education, which in itself is very broad, which the research group must reflect. There must be a clear link between education and research. It is often said, when talking about scientific problem formulation, that fruitful questions and new relevant research perspectives emerge at the interface between different disciplines. There are good conditions for this here,” he said.

Jump start for the research group

In the future, seminars and new doctoral student positions are planned together with, among others, Malmö University. The University of Borås will also be involved in arranging the Nordic Police Research Seminar 2023.

“It will be a pleasure to host the conference together with Malmö University. We hope that part of the programme will be about police education, which makes the conference as relevant for police teachers as for us as researchers. It will be an exciting forum with a good combination of people in different professional roles,” said Therese Bäckman, who is project leader of the conference on behalf of the research group.

The new research group had quite a start, and the work of building up the research environment will continue during the coming year.

“Building a research environment is a process that will go on for a long time. There are few things that are certain in advance, but it is important to build a foundation with a group with close relationships, a good conversational climate, and who maintain curiosity about each other's research areas. This is something that has so far characterised our first time as a research group and it is something that we will build upon,” Johan Sundeen concluded.

Some of the group’s ongoing research projects

  • 2020–2022 Implementation of the SafeGrowth method, City of Helsingborg (funded by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention and the City of Helsingborg). Charlotta Thodelius participates.
  • 2020–2022 The Case of Norrby: Analyses and Interventions (funded by the Centre for Welfare Studies at the University of Borås). Micael Björk and Charlotta Thodelius participate.
  • 2021–2025 An Analysis Model for Social Sustainability – with Law as the Navigation System (funded by the Framtiden Group in the City of Gothenburg). Therese Bäckman participates.

Members of the Police Studies Research Group
Micael Björk, Professor of Sociology, Visiting Professor and Head of Research
Therese Bäckman, Senior Lecturer in Law
Johan Sundeen, Associated Professor in Intellectual History and Senior Lecturer in Library and Information Science.
Charlotta Thodelius, Senior Lecturer in Criminology
Lena Matthijs, Lecturer in Law
Kristofer Nilsson, Police Teacher