A police force of our time

Knowledge solutions will play an important role in the modern police force

The Danish National Police are on a long journey of changes. At the head of the force is a “native” police officer, but he is drawing on many external impulses. The guide is the National Police Commissioner, Jens Henrik Højbjerg, who is at his best when things are moving fast.

Like many countries, the crime and threats that Denmark faces are developing at a rapid pace. The police have to do more with fewer resources, just like the rest of the public sector. The police’s strong professional culture, which focuses on team spirit and on acting in dangerous situations, must be supplemented with new competences. 

The police have also been subject to cutbacks and layoffs, at a time − following the reforms − when the Danish National Police and the new large police districts have to show their worth. New technology and new cooperation partners have to be integrated, while the internationalization of crime and of police collaboration continues unwaveringly. All of this is taking place within a context characterized by strong emotions and strong political agendas such as safety, reducing gang-related crime and fighting against terrorism. In the midst of this change, the National Police Commissioner must maintain the balance between the requirements for the future and the respect for the past and present. His plan is about leadership.

“A strong and modern police force requires leadership on several levels,” says Højbjerg. ”At the Danish National Police we are implementing improvements centrally, with strategic management and leadership. We are doing away with micromanagement in favor of management based on a group strategy for the entire police force. This sets a clear direction for our priorities, and it grants local police forces the managerial freedom to respond to local challenges. The strategy yields the necessary balance between nationwide police initiatives and the effective ability of police districts to adapt locally.

”We face challenges from a complex and demanding criminal landscape. It taxes our resources, competences, equipment and materials. This is why our focus is on innovation. We cannot just keep pushing harder. Fundamentally, we must challenge the existing ways that we resolve and organize our police work.”

Risk management

”From a leadership perspective, the challenge is to find the balance between the expectations to solve problems flawlessly, and, at the same time, to have the willingness to take risks, which is necessary for new ideas. The ability to manage risk enables us to plan our window of opportunity and experiment with new solutions. This will be an essential leadership competence moving forward,” says Højbjerg, who is a lawyer by education. 

Højbjerg’s previous experience includes Police Director in Northern Jutland, Deputy Director at Europol in The Hague, Chief Constable of the Danish National Police, Head of Section and Deputy Chief Constable in Greenland, Prosecutor in the City Court of Copenhagen and the Eastern High Court, and private law practice. He sees his in-depth knowledge of the organization as an advantage in the efforts on change. Perhaps even a necessity to have the backup to implement changes. 

Dynamic leaders

”The police have an enormous asset in the form of dynamic leaders and employees who solve everyday problems with great acumen,” he says. “I know that many employees and collaboration partners have good ideas to how we can solve tasks better. We also need to use these ideas in our new thinking. Therefore, it is important that we have a type of leadership that promotes gathering of all the good ideas.

”There is a great need to rethink the approach to the police’s core tasks, and this need can include work processes, organization, technology and structure. We have just started a larger project to identify suggestions for performing police tasks more effectively. We challenge conventional ways of thinking, and we should certainly discuss all the nuances in the spectrum between centralization and decentralization. For example, I could imagine that more core tasks could be grouped into one or more task centers around the country. There are also tasks that should be tested to see if they can be performed better and less expensively by others.”

Common cases

”We will abandon the idea that every case is unique. We have to admit that many cases are ‘common,’ and we can benefit from standardizing them. This would improve effectiveness and play a part in ensuring that, in the end, the citizens receive similar services of consistent quality,” says Højbjerg, who adds that this development frees up resources for the big, heavy cases within organized crime and financial crime.

The increasingly strong data support from several areas of society creates new important potential for the police. ”Intelligence-led policing” is the name of an international school within police work, which was introduced in the 1990s and which also made its mark in Denmark. Police work increasingly resembles intelligence work by working with data and data sources, designing scenarios and planning efforts according to risk and threat profiles.

”We challenge conventional ways of thinking, and we should certainly discuss all the nuances in the spectrum between centralization and decentralization,” says Højbjerg.

New techniques, new competencies

”It is evident that we must work with continued strategic innovation focusing on best practices, adopting technologies and IT support. In my opinion, we are doing quite well, but we could still learn a lot, e.g., from Great Britain. Crime is constantly developing and so is technology,” says Højbjerg, who believes techniques like data mining, data warehousing and other knowledge solutions will play an important role in the modern police force.

According to the National Police Commissioner, leadership competencies, IT competencies, financial proficiency, communications competencies and a number of other disciplines will supplement classic police expertise in the coming years. At the same time, the police school is being enhanced with further education and research opportunities as part of the new direction within professional police expertise.

Service-oriented police

”Another important change will be the need to become more open and to develop a service culture,” says Højbjerg. “Fortunately, we already score well in reputation studies, but we need to continue working on supplementing the culture authority with good service. Again, we are dealing with the issue of balance, since we have to be ‘tough’ in certain situations and service-oriented in others.” 

This change is closely related to the fact that the police must work closer with other authorities, companies, partners and citizens. Cross-disciplinary cooperation and knowledge sharing can improve task performance in relation to maintaining law and order and fighting crime.

”This also applies to openness on data,” Højbjerg says. “We need a very clear distinction between what can be shared with others and what we cannot share. We are improving in this area, and the key is that we must know ourselves and our new role well. If we know this, we can also find the balance between being open and closed.”


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